In a strong statement, Four UNICEF representatives – Aloys Kamuragiye, for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Alison Parker of Belize, Jamaica’s Mariko Kagoshima and Nicolas Pron for Guyana and Suriname – recommended that the regional examining body make adjustments to the content and administration of the exams to ensure students are not disadvantaged.
They declared: “These are unprecedented times and will collectively require us to adapt and recreate normalcy and routine, for the many lives disrupted. A moment like this calls for innovative approaches, to stem the effects of COVID-19 on generations to come.”
As a result, the UN children’s advocates called on education ministers “to request CXC to adjust the CSEC and CAPE exams 2021, and to further simplify the content and the methodology of the exams across all subjects and adapt the timeline to the challenges currently faced by the students to ensure equitable accessibility and participation for every student.”
Citing strong grounds for a different approach, they pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic which they argue has further exacerbated the gaps in preparedness amongst the most disadvantaged students. They also stress that there is a higher risk of students in vulnerable conditions never sitting the exams and this could seriously affect not only their further education at higher secondary or tertiary levels but their future.
“Our main concern is the low level of preparedness (academically and psychologically) of many of the thousands of 16–18-year-old students across the region to sit the exams. In this context, requiring students to sit an examination that includes components that cover an entire two-year course of study would risk being ineffective,” the UNICEF officials said.
Their position comes amid a vibrant lobby of CXC by the Group of Concerned Parents Barbados, the Regional Coalition for CXC Exam Redress, the Caribbean Union of Teachers and students to change course.
Back in April, CXC announced some adjustments to its exams, including providing the topics for Paper 2, the long answer paper five weeks prior to the start of the exams, slashing requirements for School-Based Assessments (SBAs) by as much as 50 per cent for some subjects, extending submission dates for some subjects and allow ing some students to defer taking the exams.
While the UNICEF experts acknowledged CXC’s actions, they highlighted a number of deficiencies that need attention.
They noted: “For example, no change has been made on the multiple-choice paper (Paper 1) which will still cover the entire syllabus, and no clear structure was shared as to how those students who meet deferral requirements and choose to defer will be supported to sit the exams at a later date in 2022.”
The UNICEF reps have proposed that CXC give serious consideration to the recommendations provided by the Caribbean Union of Teachers
They said: “Paper 1 should only test rationalized topics that are tested in Paper 2 and not the entire syllabi as the said syllabi would not have been completed; ii) for Paper 2, remove all hurdles including compulsory questions and ensure that no one question item should test two or more content areas; and iii) extend the start of the examination by three weeks and release the rationalized board topics immediately to students and teachers in order to facilitate effective preparation.”
The UNICEF officials also have appealed to regional education ministers to provide extra support for students by ensuring “they are mentally prepared and have the tools to deal with the added stress of being examined at this time.
“Governments should guarantee that all children who decide to defer the sitting of exams to 2022 will automatically continue to be registered at their current schools,” they said. “Provisions should be made to ensure financial costs related to schooling are minimized.”
UNICEF said it stands ready to support the Ministries of Education to provide technical support in further developing and implementing the proposed changes.