Where is the Leadership?

Submitted by Paula Sealy

General elections were held on 19 January. Today is 19 May. It has been over 100 days since the elections. Up to now the secondary schools have no boards of management. This is affecting the schools.  

So when will the boards be put in place? Will the Minister of Education explain what is going to the public? Does she or the government understand the problems this is contributing to? Is the delay because of education reform? 

Answers are needed not more empty talk. 

Is the 11+ the only thing the ministry is looking at? How much longer will the 11+ be used?

Education Reform: Jettisoning 11+

Submitted by William Skinner

Those who support the abolition of the Common Entrance Examination (CEE), will certainly welcome the current administration’s intention to move our children, out of what is really a socioeconomic and educational gas chamber. We have not seen a determined, enlightening, or progressive effort to reform the education system, from any administration, since 1962, when free education was introduced.

Those who believe that education reform is like purchasing garbage trucks or buses are deluding themselves. It should not be the plaything of political grandstanding and excessive nonproductive press conferences. Our last Minister of Education has bequeathed nothing but presentation without content.

While this writer wholeheartedly supports progressive continuous assessment as the best method, for our children to make the transition from primary to secondary school, the awareness, that it is not the only one is constant. Any reform of the system that does not include how we are going to harness our human resources, for the next half century, will be a complete waste of time.

The current administration is failing quite miserably, in its bungling efforts, to get our children back in the classroom, after their long absence caused by the pandemic. It is difficult to have confidence in its ability to radically reform the education system, if it cannot even get this existing problem solved or at least reduced.

The frustration has now reached our incredibly young children, some under the age of five, who joined their parents in a march of disgust against being imprisoned in their homes. Amazingly, we can find ways to expose the country to COVID, via a general election, to solve a bogus division. We can create senseless super spreaders, but we cannot develop a system to rescue our children from psychological trauma because of boredom and stress due to extremely limited or no social interaction.

Our children: barely out of pampers; whose pee has not yet begun to foam; and who are still to encounter a training bra, took to the streets to remind those who have undertaken the appearance of adults, that the nonsense must cease.

As we embark, on the quest to abolish the dreaded CEE, and reform our education system, we must collectively do better because our young people, who have just abandoned their cribs are not going to stand for “any foolishness.” The message is more than clear.

The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – A Recurring Decimal

The expression used at caption has found its way into the local vernacular to describe not merely the repetition of a number or series of numbers in the dividend such as when 1/3 or 1/7 is converted to decimal form but, less accurately, the too frequent re-emergence of a person or issue. Concerning the latter, I have remarked in this space on more occasions than a few, on the apparent local propensity to raise and re-circulate some matters of public discourse without ever coming to a definitive resolution of them one way or another. As a columnist, I am certainly not complaining since it provides some ready weekly fodder, but it is scarcely effective.

The list is indeed a long one -the policy of the imposition of the death penalty; the decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults; the reform of our defamation laws; the establishment of a freedom of information culture and a condign statute; improved regulation of the privately owned public transportation sector; public and private sector integrity; a Contractor-General; the modern relevance of an Upper House of Parliament; and, finally, today’s topic, the inutility of the common entrance exam, more popularly known as the Eleven-plus or, even more officially and loftily, as the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination [BSEE].

Truth to tell, this issue is not as yet entered firmly into the current national discourse, but I read a newspaper report last week, in which my Cave Hill Campus colleague, Professor Joel Warrican, Director of the School of Education, lists this examination first among those conditions that “inhibit the fight of our young citizens to strengthen the resilience of the regional citizenry”. In the report, Professor Warrican appears to be more concerned with the “large proportion of students who do not meet the expected standards and the consequent stratification of the secondary school system created by the manner in which the results of the Common Entrance Examination are used to allocate students to schools, leading to “the marginalization of students who are allocated to ‘bad’ (sic) schools”.

I suppose that the first question that would be asked of the professor is the basis on which a school is to be assessed as “bad”, an adjective that is scarcely ever heard in popular local parlance. I am prepared to concede, however, that there exists in that argot the notion of “good” schools, so it seems conceivable that there must also be, comparatively, some not-so-good and even some bad ones, although it is unclear on what basis these designations are to be made.

As one who believes, errantly or otherwise, that I owe the nature of my current existence largely to my result in the Common Entrance Examination in the late 1960’s, I am naturally inclined to the view that it is the fairest system of transferring youngsters to secondary school, especially given the horror stories recounted of what obtained before, where it was not unknown for some to pass the examination only to fail the subsequent “interview” that was totally unrelated to the child’s academic prowess, but merely to his or her social standing and material comforts. Given my condition at eleven, it is at least doubtful whether I could have passed the interview component, never mind my performance in the academic aspect, hence the existence of my current bias.

Of course, one supposes that the nature and content of the examination itself could be adjusted; for instance, transfer from primary to secondary school might be effected at a later age and the element of continuous assessment by coursework constituting one aspect of the final mark, as now obtains in the regional secondary schools and UWI examinations clearly has a role to play. Concomitantly, the question begs asking, is assessment on the basis of prowess in English language and mathematics only a useful indicator of ability to cope academically at the secondary level?

The truth remains however, that the concept of examination remains the most common mode of determining progress at most levels of education. The first year student in the Bachelor of Laws programme at UWI cannot progress to the second year without having achieved success by examination in a sufficient number of his or her Part One courses, similarly to progress to the third year, and to the first and second years at Law School respectively. One would also have to pass examinations to become a certified butcher, baker or candlestick maker, so the notion of progress by examination is not inherently noisome.

The true problem with the BSEE is not the examination itself, rather it is what populism makes of it. The students who gain top placement in the BSEE are more lauded and feted initially and for a longer period by a fawning press than those who acquire terminal degrees in subjects of national development value. They inevitably become the darlings of their teachers and the parents bask vicariously in the achievement of their offspring, at least until a new cadre replaces the “top ten” the following year.

There is, strangely enough, no similar press follow-up for the BSEE high achiever unless she or she goes on to be a success otherwise. Indeed, the examination itself is made into a national spectacle with televised and newspaper interviews and parents and their young charges after the event, gifts of examination materials, complete with the obligatory news coverage by the ubiquitous politician; and special events put on by local restaurants for those who can afford it. And the outcomes of the BSEE persevere well into adulthood here where many individuals are often described by reference to their secondary school rather than to their tertiary affiliation.

In any ensuing public discourse on this matter, the onus is clearly on those who would seek to replace the BSEE with another form of transfer to propose it and to justify its existence in what is claimed to be a meritocratic polity. Given the current state of affairs, any system that is less objective than an examination arguably runs the risk of being categorized as discriminatory to some among us as the pernicious old “interview”

The Grenville Phillips Column | Letter – Perpetuating Mental Slavery

Grenville Phillips II, Leader of Solutions Barbados

Our children are currently preparing for the Common Entrance Examination, so we can expect the same debates about the exam that we have been having for the past 40 years.  Imagine that.  We essentially waste our time on this issue every year while our politicians make no meaningful improvements.  Well, not under a Solutions Barbados administration.

The two sides of this debate are that some want to abolish the exam while some want to keep it.  The reasons for each side are many and diverse, and all of them have merit.

The main reasons advanced for abolishing the exam are the belief that it perpetuates an elitist society, and that one examination should not have such serious consequences on a child’s future.  On the other side, persons believe that it is the fairest method available for allocating students to schools that have a history of higher academic performance and discipline.

Barring any permanent mental challenges, with time, all of our students can master all of the information that they are taught.  However, some of them, whom we call early learners, will learn it before their peers.

For example, some of our children may be able to write the alphabet earlier, when they are 4 years old, while others may learn it later when they are 6.  If our children are examined on their knowledge of the alphabet when they are 5 years old, then those who learnt the information earlier will do better.  However, if all students are examined when they are 6 years old, when all students understand the material, then the test will be fair to all.

We currently teach and examine all students on the information that only the early learners have the capacity to fully understand.  Therefore, the early learners tend to do well and are assigned to secondary schools with other early learners.  The late learners tend to do poorly in this exam that is designed for early learners, and are assigned to secondary schools with other late learners.

Some late learners will develop into early learners after they have been assigned and will outperform their peers.  The remaining late learners will then become: frustrated at not being able to understand the material, discouraged at the consistent low scores they receive, and disinterested in the subject.  They finally stop trying to learn when they believe the lie that the information can only be understood by a person who is intellectually superior.

Our school system reinforces the idea in our children and parents that the early learners are intellectually superior high-achievers, and should be directed to more academic study.  The late learners are deemed intellectually inferior low-achievers, and are encouraged to work with their hands.  When parents and teachers have given-up on our late learners, we perpetuate a slavery mentality that some of us must advance so far and no further.  This is the root cause of many of our social problems.

There appears to be a failure to appreciate that when a late learner is allowed to understand what the early learner learnt previously, then both the early and late learners can perform at an equal level of competence.  They are all high achievers then, with the same level of aptitude.  In a Solutions Barbados administration, the Common Entrance Examination will be fair, and the school curriculum will be rearranged so that it benefits all of our students, instead of only our early learners.

The Government mandates that all parents must send their children to school.  After daily rewarding our early learners and frustrating our late learners, the school system sends them back to their parents with false notions of intellectual superiority and inferiority.

Our school system has done all of our students and parents, employees and employers a grave disservice.  It has perpetuated the slavery idea that some are entitled to privilege, while others are to go so far and no further.  For overseeing this most diabolical system for the past 40 years, and refusing to listen to any voice of justice, the BLP and DLP do not deserve a single seat in our Parliament.

Grenville Phillips II is the President of Walbrent College and the founder of Solutions Barbados.  He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com

An Elitist 11+

Submitted by William Skinner

John Cumberbatch, the late president of the Barbados Union of Teachers, often described the Common Examination as elitist. He was convinced that once it remained the gold standard of excellence, the system would eventually be the main cause for several societal problems. It was a position he took before the mid-seventies, when he was leader of the BUT. Forty years later, his predictions have come to pass and we are still refusing to accept that he and others who supported this view were correct.

What is most unfortunate is that many of those teachers who were exposed to John’s views, embraced them but we now find them four decades later, in powerful positions, denouncing his positions and shamelessly defending the status quo. These former “Comrades” have sold their souls on the altar of political expediency and one often wonders, if they have collectively agreed to hold fast to the mantra: “if you can’t beat them join them”. They are to be found in both government and opposition. The classical case of pigs now walking on their hind legs and behaving like the masters, in Animal Farm.

Those voices crying in the wilderness for a radical reform of the education system, are to be commended but once parents believe that their children, can enter Harrison or Queens College, the task to change the system becomes more difficult. If many of those parents knew that some children enter the examination room, barely having the ability to recognize their names, they would perhaps be more supportive.

Any country that deliberately throws hundreds of its children in a socio-economic river while gleefully celebrating the achievements of a few, is certainly guilty of a form of societal genocide. The current rise in crime and the escalating disregard for life or limb by some of our youth, are certain signs of the full growth of seeds that were planted at least four decades ago. Our social scientists, have bluntly refused to utilize their knowledge to show or explain how the education system, is fertile breeding ground, for much of the deviancy that is now permeating the society.

Some moderators who chased callers off their programs, when they tried to explain that the education system was a great contributor, to many of our problems, are heard these days crying crocodile tears because they are facing the frightening reality, that if we refuse to rescue our youth from the path of drugs and crime, they would be no longer safe in their comfortable heights and terraces. It means that their desire to now embrace what they formally dismissed as “fringe elements”, is perhaps guided by ulterior motives.

Any form of elitism breeds disaffection and is immediately followed by hopelessness. We cannot restructure the economy without education reform. It is impossible to produce a 2017 model car on a 1950 production line. Our people remain our most precious resource, and that resource must be carefully nurtured for national development. It is not too late but time is running out.

The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – An Uncommon Entrance

Jeff Cumberbatch – Chairman of the FTC and Deputy Dean, Law Faculty, UWI, Cave Hill

Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out”. Anonymous

The fact that it still exists as the principal mode of transferring pupils from the primary to the secondary stage of education nearly fifty years since I myself sat it in 1968 and despite the numerous strictures levelled against it through the decades, is a clear indication not only of the Barbadian cultural aversion to change but also of the fact that the suggested replacements are not that cogent to the controllers.

Of course, that is not to say that there have not been some minor adjustments. The entire process has, for instance, taken on a much more humanizing patina. The screening (screaming) test or Part One that weeded out some of the weaker students has gone, and with it the notion that to “pass” the examination meant the pupil had to succeed in gaining entry into one of what are now called the older secondary schools only. And it is now rather impressively titled the Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (BSSEE). These days, there is one examination comprising English Language, Mathematics and Composition and a child passes so long as he or she is placed in a secondary school.

From all accounts, based on the hearsay evidence that I have acquired over the years, the current process is itself a vast improvement on its predecessor where, I have been told, it was possible to pass the examination but to fail the “interview” that sought to place the pupil into a certain social category by taking into account patently irrelevant considerations such as the family’s sleeping and bathing arrangements, to put it euphemistically.

Since I am of a later vintage, I cannot confirm the accuracy of this method of selection, but from what I have read of the Barbados of that era, it is not at all improbable. Indeed, in the community where I grew up, I learnt of some unfortunate souls who had fallen victim to this officially condoned system of apartness.

It may be the fear of a return to this sorry state of affairs that accounts mainly for the modern official intransigence to reform the system and to adopt any alternative that might be less objective than a closed-book examination for which the pupil has been prepared for at least two years.

The plain truth that everyone is seemingly reluctant to accept, in spite of the evidence, is that it does not really matter in the long run which school one passes for. In other words, there is no necessary linear relation between one’s secondary school and his or her future prospects or earning capacity. This is of course a hard sell, given the acclaim accorded by officialdom and the local media to the results of this examination. It is at least peculiar that the results of an examination in English and basic Mathematics sat by eleven year olds should command as much press coverage and their public declaration by the Minister with responsibility for Education himself. There is even a top ten as if it were some competition rather than simply a process for graduation to secondary school. And this bespeaks nothing of those parents who congregate outside the examination centres to gain a first hand account from the child of the easiness or hardness of the papers.

However, there are more than a few well-known individuals that would have “failed” this examination and yet would have risen to great heights in their respective chosen vocations while there are some less well-known nationally who have become “superannuated” somewhere in the “good” school a mere three or four years after their crowning achievement.

None of this has had any impact on the popular perception of the importance of the examination and each year there will be press coverage of some child who, despite the odds, managed to pass for the school of his or her choice. And of those who, in spite of crushed hopes in their time, went on to achieve success in one of the traditional professions or trades or went abroad and excelled in academia. All of which might be instructive, if only we are willing to take note.

Sometimes, the narrative becomes bizarre. I read this weekend in another section of the press of one pupil who was hugely disappointed that she had passed for Harrison College instead of Christ Church Foundation that is nearer to her home. Of course, depending on the reader’s alma mater, this reaction might or might not be thought odd, but it may supply nevertheless a teaching moment for our education officials as to another mode of transfer to secondary education that might be considered, that is, according to the secondary school that is nearest to one’s home.

I feel certain that this proposal is not original, though it seems never to have been given serious consideration. This is unsurprising given the probable catchment areas of Harrison College, the old Queens College and of St Michael School, but it is worthy of a rethink, especially if combined with some regard still being paid to the marks achieved in the examination.

Not only would this serve to confirm the often made but only partially true assertion that all secondary schools are the same but it would also afford the child the opportunity to a wider range of intellects and personalities, much as it is in the world that he or she will inhabit at university and in adult life.

It should not be thought that this partial zoning is the only alternative possible. Other suggestions such as that of transferring children to secondary school at fourteen years of age since there is no magic to the attainment of one’s eleventh birthday and the notion of specialty secondary schools are worthy of s deeper consideration. Perhaps the mode of continuous assessment is too subjective to be a priority in a society that hews towards egalitarianism, but the matter should be subjected to public debate and conversation.

Once we believe that we may be able to effect a more equitable method of transfer from primary to secondary school, we should not let the discrimination of the previous system cause us to believe that what we have now is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.