Thousands of students in the midst of preparations for this year’s Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE), Caribbean Secondary Education Certificates (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) have been given the option of deferring their examinations and repeating a year of school.
This was the assurance from Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Santia Bradshaw as officials revealed that less than half of the country’s class four students may not be ready to sit the BSSEE, better known as the Common Entrance.
During an almost 80-minute press conference on Wednesday to announce the July 28 date for the entrance examination, the minister declared that in the face of numerous COVID-19 related challenges, the nation’s children would neither be “discarded” nor “sent out to be idle”.
Ministry officials disclosed that a recent readiness assessment taken by more than 3,350 students across the public and private school system revealed an overall mean of 63 per cent in English and 41 per cent in Mathematics, representing a decline of six per cent and 20 per cent respectively when pitched against Common Entrance results over the last three years.
According to Minister Bradshaw, the scores pointed to three tiers of students, including traditionally high and low achievers, as well as a large demographic that has been severely affected by numerous new challenges.
She said that whilst many other countries have cancelled similar exams and relied on continuous assessment, the current system does not facilitate alternative modes of evaluation.
“It therefore means that not having the ability to look back at the class three results for instance and see where students were before this pandemic, the decision has been taken that we will hold the Common Entrance examination this year on the 28th of July, particularly because many of our teachers have said to us that the students require additional time. It is difficult for us to say exactly how much every child will need, but we believe that that is a reasonable time to allow students to work on the concepts and ensure that they have some of the foundation things that are necessary to be able to transition them,” Bradshaw explained.
As a result, the education minister declared that the option of students repeating the academic year, often referred to as a ‘stop down’ ought to bear no negative connotations in the current environment.
“We have taken the decision that if parents and teachers believe that based on the performance of students over the past few weeks and certainly prior to the examination, there is genuine reason based on all of the things that we know to be the case – the lack of parental support, issues in terms of being absent from school, that the students have not had the devices or the benefit of having the device for a lengthy period – any of those reasons or a combination of those reasons are sufficient to make a case for deferral of those students,” Bradshaw declared.
“And therefore, we must treat this with the seriousness with which it deserves, explaining to our students they are not failures. This pandemic has been thrust upon us and therefore we must allow them the opportunity, if they need additional time in the form of another year, to be able to consolidate a number of these concepts so that they are comfortable in moving on and transitioning at a later stage,” she added.
While explaining that further details will be explained in the future, the minister gave the assurance that no students would be disadvantaged because of a lack of space at the primary or secondary level. In fact, Bradshaw added that officials from the ministry would be seeking out alternative accommodation if necessary, to facilitate the students. These include the use of tents, using off-site locations, and if necessary, the creation of additional structures.
“I’ve heard some people in some territories and jurisdictions have been told that there will be no space for them, so they can’t defer. Now I understand if people want to encourage people to sit an exam, but I am telling you that this ministry of education’s position is that we are keeping the children and we are going to keep them in a way that is safe. We are going to keep them to ensure that they get the benefit of education. We are not discarding our children and sending them out to be idle,” Minister Bradshaw declared.
“We have found creative ways to have additional space at the schools and I think the same thing will probably have to happen at the secondary level, albeit that many of the students that you are talking about that are returning to school are older and therefore we may be able to accommodate them in a different way or at different times.
“Now the truth is, it is not ideal to have students in different locations… But in this particular environment that we are in, we are constantly having to find alternative accommodation and to provide in that alternative accommodation, the safety monitors to ensure that these places are clean and properly secured in order to protect the children and allow them to learn,” she added. ([email protected])