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Seeking justice from CARICOM on CXC

by Paula-Anne Moore
7 min read

“CXC must not be allowed to investigate themselves and then gaslight the region again. We need open, clear dialogue, facts and statistics. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The list of unanswered questions is long. The answers to these questions may surprise some of us. CXC can be and should be something beautiful, a shared Caribbean experience that brings the region together and enriches the minds and collective knowledge of our future generation. A baton passed from the region’s intellectuals to the next in line. An indigenous exam tailored for the West Indian experience. Instead, it’s a joke. After years …… I have realised that absolutely no change can occur without political pressure. ‘CXC overhaul’ must be part of the election discussion in every region. These concerns may not affect you until it’s your child at the receiving end of some careless, indifferent injustice… but we must be a voice for those affected. Continuing with business as usual will cause permanent damage to education in the region.” – Kerwin Springer, Trinidad and Tobago online master educator, Student Hub.

“What you’ve summarised above undoubtedly illustrates the devastating & demoralising experience for (the pandemic’s) almost seven years of negative effect on student education … Irreparable damage, demoralising and much more. The strong advocacy effort by those who are passionate MUST continue until a satisfactory pan-Caribbean solution has been reached through cohesiveness amongst regional MoEs, to get things right at CXC.” – Retired Professor, UWI School of Medicine.

We are grateful that the CARICOM ministers of education read CXC the riot act during their meeting on June 4 with CXC and caused CXC to reverse its unilateral decision to drop four STEM, green energy, technology and vocational studies courses. We note that, contrary to CXC’s earlier press statement, it was not CXC who had called the meeting with the CARICOM ministers of education, but the OECS ministers who initiated the meeting, as advised by Antigua and Barbuda’s minister. We also note that one of the reasons given by CXC for the cancellation of the four subject offerings, in yet another of their communications, was cost versus revenue considerations.

We are however disappointed that it appears the ministers did not use the opportunity of their June 4 meeting with CXC to launch the process of a review of CXC’s governance, as we have advocated. Indeed, this ministerial meeting was reactive to the latest CXC miscommunications, bloops and blunders, and not proactively address other pervasive challenges in CXC’s examinations and practices, inclusive of addressing the pursuit of fairness for our innocent CARICOM children, as we have championed consistently for since September 2020.

CXC’s unilateral proposed cancellation of the four subjects was contrary to certain of the key objectives of COHSOD’s own 2030 HRD policy and demonstrated yet again CXC’s culture of lack of accountability, disrespect of its stakeholders, even at the Ministerial level, and poor communications, all of which we have consistently drawn attention. We are unconvinced of the accuracy of CXC’s communication that their discontinuation notice was inadvertently released; there are recordings of Dr Wesley explaining the reasons.

The meeting with CXC of June 4 was an apparent missed opportunity by the CARICOM ministers of education to initiate a process for a more effective, long-needed overhaul of CXC’s governance, and to move towards a layer of independent expert regular oversight of CXC, as happens in UK OFQUAL. We note former Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw publicly endorsed our position regarding the need for governance reform during the 2021 inaugural CXC/ministerial summit, the first and only CARICOM minister to do so publicly.

As we consistently have said since September 2020, the issues at the heart of the CXC annual, increasing exam administration challenges appear to be:

  1. Sub-optimal – large circular, cumbersome, Byzantine – governance. CXC’s council seems to have 30+ members, as per its website. This makes it difficult to optimise decision-making and rapid response to crises; the public would not know for certain, as there is little information publicly available.
  2. Lack of independent technical expert oversight of CXC. Such oversight is unlikely to be feasible by politicians, so would not be COHSOD’s role.
  3. Insufficient accountability/transparency/ communications, either to COHSOD or to CXC’s ultimate clients: students/parents/teachers who tend to be overlooked as real stakeholders. Opportunities for dispute resolution regarding grades are virtually non-existent, due to legal protections and few Freedom of Information Acts within CARICOM.
  4. Effective self-regulation of CXC (see how it handled the review of its own CAPE paper 2 Unit 2 Chemistry paper complaints). It has effectively thrown the teachers who presented data of exam paper flaws under the bus.
  5. Poor communications which tend to exhibit aloof callousness and lack of care and concern for children; 20,000 students, parents and teachers signed petitions within a few days regarding 2024 CSEC Maths and Add Maths exam papers. There has been no update to the alleged CSEC Principles of Accounting Paper 2 security breach.

Both CXC and our CARICOM governments appear to have continued ignoring these and other concerns, based on their lack of response or updates.

  1. Signs of sub-optimal processes and competencies in exam paper setting, grading, and exam paper breaches.
  2. Lack of transparency in grade boundaries, and rubrics, access to student scripts, and other technical info on exams often shared by other exam bodies.
  3. CXC’s strategic plan philosophy: An apparent cost-reduction, private for-profit business-type culture versus public service approach. CXC’s current mission and vision statements refer to the same, not to centring as a core objective the maximising of student potential, a fundamental child right, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

These are some of the fundamental issues at the heart of challenges emanating from CXC’s and CARICOM’s Ministers of Education’s joint administration of CXC’s exams annually.

We note that during the Great CXC Grading Fiasco of 2020, CXC’s independent review team of October 2020 published a report with numerous recommendations, inclusive of enhanced communications with the public. To what extent have these recommendations been addressed by CXC? Have they been reviewed by COHSOD?

The pandemic has revealed the ‘comorbidities of education.’ How can we collectively repair these if these challenges remain apparently largely unacknowledged and unaddressed, based on recurring issues, by CXC and CARICOM governments?

We again exhort and challenge our CARICOM governments and CXC to meet with us, key stakeholders who too often go ignored: students, parents, and rank-and-file teachers, so our perspectives can directly inform decision-making and governance, and a better path forward be developed. CXC needs the trust and confidence of the public to thrive. There has been self-inflicted damage which is worsening annually.

We thank minister of education Sandra Husbands for publicly engaging with us on June 5 and acknowledging some of these challenges, especially those relating to governance. We thank Opposition Senator Watson, as a member of our national parent group, for recently extensively highlighting in the Senate the issues we have been consistently advocating on, these past five academic years.

CXC and CARICOM’s political leadership need to demonstrate that they understand the cross-roads they are at in the land of public opinion, before it is too late, CXC’s reputation and credibility are irreparably damaged, and this issue becomes an election issue. Perhaps it is the political discourse that is needed to get the attention this crucially important matter deserves.

We are proud products of CARICOM and our indigenous education bodies and wish them the very best. CXC and CARICOM need to live up to our reasonable, constructive concerns and expectations; our children deserve the same 21st-century approach to care, consideration, and fairness while maintaining academic rigour, which they see other children obtaining internationally.

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