A leading education expert Wednesday declared that Caribbean education ministers are perpetuating “an injustice” by pressing ahead with their own plans for primary school students to sit the common entrance examinations despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent volcanic eruptions in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In a strong statement, Professor S Joel Warrican, Director of the School of Education at UWI Cave Hill, said it is hypocritical for the governments to press CXC to respond to the plight of secondary school students when they are bent on staging national primary exit exams.
Professor Warrican said: “While persons point to the plight of the secondary-school age students and the perceived injustice being dealt to them by CXC, I believe that they are overlooking another injustice wrought by others in a different quarter.
“Here I am speaking of the injustice perpetuated by said Ministries of Education that, in the face of all the trauma, have still found a way of ensuring that primary school students write the common entrance examination (known by different names in different countries in the region, but the same beast!).
“Ministries of Education are finding it convenient and safe for these children to return to in-person classes in schools in this, the third term of the academic year so that they can be “adequately” prepared to write this ‘screening’ test.”
He questioned the moral grounds on which the education ministries that uphold “this inequitable system” appeal to CXC as he accused the ministries of applying a double standard.
The UWI expert blasted the approach, insisting that the Common Entrance Examination which remains the “unshakeable and relied-on means” of transferring students from primary to secondary education is “unjust” because it perpetuates a system of elitism that ensures that students from certain backgrounds are awarded places in prestigious schools while the others are farmed out to schools that are under-resourced and under-valued.
Professor Warrican said it was evident that across the regional education system “examinations rule” and warned that this approach was doing far more harm than good.
He continued: “Even in ‘normal’ times, this system of high stakes examinations plays havoc with the mental and psychological state of students. I wish to submit that in these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and volcanic eruptions, the toll that King Examinations is taking on students is even higher.
“The fact that the examination culture is deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the region’s people, has become a trump card for CXC, Ministries of Education and to a lesser extent, schools.”
The professor of education also failed CXC for persisting with its plans to proceed with its regional examinations.
The regional examining body Wednesday announced that exams would be delayed by two weeks to give students more time to prepare.
Professor Warrican said he was particularly disappointed at the lack of leadership from CXC to find creative ways of certifying students who are leaving school and criticized its handling of the 2020 exam debacle which sparked a loud outcry across the region.
He said: “As an organization that boasts of expertise in assessment, it is distressing that CXC cannot find innovative approaches to assess students. Indeed, when an attempt at this was made in 2020, the outcome was disastrous, causing great anxiety among students, their parents and their teachers.
“What made the situation even worse, was CXC’s attempt to defend their indefensible actions in a manner that many felt was arrogant, disrespectful and uncaring. It is unfortunate that this same attitude is discernible in CXC’s behaviour this year.”
Professor Warrican proposed that CXC should step out of an “inflexible approach” of the administration of examinations and develop friendlier models of certifying students.
“Models that while maintaining the integrity of the certification that they provide, are not so heavily dependent of examinations written en masse by students, come hell or high water,” he stressed.
The education expert also appealed to regional ministries of education to hold CXC more accountable for providing a variety of options that allows for greater flexibility for administering its assessments.
“Of course, to do this without hypocrisy or moral dilemma, Ministries of Education should also take stock of their own models of assessing students at the end of their primary school education,” he said. ([email protected])