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by Ralph Jemmott
Reports in the Press now suggest that Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley has ostensibly recognised that the issue of the abolition of the Eleven Plus or Common Entrance Examination is not one that should be rushed. Our leader may now be learning the virtue of taking one’s time.
If she is reported correctly, she stated that “the transition is still a long way off,” and that it would be “at least a two or three year process.” She noted that we are trying to replace “a system that has been in place for decades.”
It is gratifying that the Prime Minister has now somewhat belatedly recognised the complexity of altering the transfer from primary to secondary schooling.
It is regrettable that the impression was given about two years ago that the abolition was something imminent even when there was no evidence of a concrete consensual alternative to the existing transfer mechanism. Moderator Peter Wickham was not pleased when the test was not abolished two years previously.
e seemed to have thought that it was something one could do off-hand. “Send the children to the secondary school next to where they live and they will learn,” he once stated on a Brass Tacks program. It was a most simplistic and unfortunate remark on what is a very complicated issue.
More recently the impression was given by the current Minister of Education that this year’s exam scheduled for July 2022 would almost certainly be the last of its kind.
This raised legitimate queries among parents and teachers of class 3 students as to exactly what type of assessment, that cohort of pupils should begin to prepare for in 2023. Perhaps after the hasty, poorly thought out pronouncements, it has now been recognised that the abolition of the exam was more problematic than Miss Mottley and the One Woman Director of Reform ever imagined. It is a complex social issue because it involves parents and their perception of their children’s futures.
Someone once said that it is very difficult to impose an egalitarian schooling system on a hierarchically stratified social order unless it is going to be done by force.
A poll done some time ago showed that if 50 per cent of parents wanted to abolish the Eleven Plus, the other 50 per cent wanted to retain it.
If any administration negates parental choice, certain persons will opt out of the public system, in which case you could create a two-tier system that exacerbates class divisions. Apart from pedagogical concerns, it could be a dicey political issue.
Miss Mottley once said that when she was Minister of Education she had introduced a system of partial zoning but that it was now her intention to “go the whole hog.” The question must be asked in the interests of the nation’s children and their futures.
Is it the intention of the reform movement to, for lack of a better word, ‘comprehensivise’ all schools, that each of our 22 secondary schools should in future take in all range of scholastic abilities? Is that the intention?
That change would have implications for the equipping and staffing of schools. By the way is the Prime Minister advising the Reform Director or is the Reform Director advising Miss Mottley?
Let us hope that changes are made and that parents have to accept what is suggested or enforced.
The other concern is the notion of a Middle School.
The prime Minister is quoted as saying very recently that the reforms “could entail a Middle School for first and second formers,” the purpose being to decide what schools of excellence can “give them a fair chance in terms of teaching, of equipment and in terms of environment . . . that is where we want to go.”
The question still remains. Is the Middle School a separate institution? If Miss Mottley is reported correctly she is saying that the Middle School is intended for first and second form students.
One previously understood that its intake would comprise the first, second and third forms or what is now termed the Lower School in the present secondary system. Someone should make their intentions clear to the taxpayers who will underwrite the cost of these changes.
One believes that some level of consultation in the Town Hall format was prepared and done, but curiously there had been no report of those communications if they took place. I know that one was due for the St. George Secondary School at 5 p.m. on March 19. There was no report in the Press as to the ideas expressed.
The abolition of the Eleven Plus is not like pulling down the Lord Nelson statue, it can have serious implication for Barbadian education and society if its replacement creates more problems than those it was intended to solve.
Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and regular contributor on social issues.