The island’s two teachers’ unions are in full support of the new July 28 date for this year’s Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE).
Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw told a media conference that the new date was chosen after a readiness assessment was carried out among Class 4 students at public and private primary schools. She said the Ministry of Education will offer deferrals to students who may not feel ready to take the examination, and noted that consultations will take place over the next few weeks.
Responding to the announcement, General Secretary of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Herbert Gittens and President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman said they had no issues with the new date.
Gittens said his union believed that even amid the challenges that students and teachers have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent volcanic ash fall, Class 4 students should be given the opportunity to sit the national examination this year.
“Generally, . . . although we would have preferred an earlier date, we don’t have a challenge with a date being announced for the end of July. A date is set and the students now have something to work towards, so we look forward to seeing what the outcome will be. The cohort was preparing for an examination so they shouldn’t be disappointed with not having an exam,” he said.
“Since the assessments, teachers continued to work between the assessments and the end of the term and that would have been about ten weeks of instruction. So our thing is that face-to-face teaching would have been happening between the assessments and the end of term and therefore we felt that that could have been enough instruction. So we were saying a date in early July. Initially, we had said July 6, but then we were willing to add on another week or two. But, a date has been set which is critical,” he added.
Meanwhile, Redman suggested that the professional opinions of Class 4 teachers should be respected and actively considered as they have asked for more time to deal with the deficits of students facing difficulties preparing for this year’s examination.
She said the BSTU will be meeting with Ministry officials and will be an integral part of negotiations regarding the timeframe between the official end of the school year and the BSSEE date, as well as the commencement of the new school year.
“The implications of all this and the necessary concessions will have to be fleshed out. While teachers have been actively and willingly sacrificing and going above and beyond during this entire COVID period, as a union we still have to be positioned to best protect their interest. We will arrive at agreements in the best interest of all, in the face of these sacrifices.”
The assessments had showed that more than 50 per cent of students need extra time to prepare for the BSSEE and that there are students who had great difficulty in understanding mathematical concepts taught in the online classroom, in addition to other challenges.
According to Redman, the findings are clear indications that there are generally serious deficits among students at that level, particularly in the area of Mathematics.
The BSTU president noted that even in the best of years, too many students entered secondary school with deficits in Mathematics, and based on complaints from heads of departments at secondary schools, the union has repeatedly asked for the Mathematics curriculum at the primary school level to be adjusted.
Redman also noted that the BSTU was pleased that during the press conference, measures were announced to address what she described as long overdue fundamental education reform.
“This is something that we have been clamouring for in all levels of our system,” she said. “We have repeatedly emphasized the need for education reform with an emphasis on soft skills at the level of the primary school and a reduction in curriculum content in some areas, but implement a programme that really properly prepares the foundation for relevant programmes at the secondary level; programmes that recognise equal value and provide opportunities of development of the different intelligences, capabilities and aptitudes of the students.” ([email protected])