At this time every year the results of the CPEA commands our attention. The highflyers and schools from which they come are celebrated in the media. Students are interviewed to find out the secrets of their success. This is all well and good, for parents will undoubtedly be proud of their children’s achievements. But what about the others, especially those lowest on the scale? We tend to neglect them. They will be put in schools that are not as well endowed with teachers, educational facilities and general infrastructure and are underfunded. They will see themselves as failures since all schools are not created equally.
We need to pay much more attention to the majority of these students who would not have been accorded celebrity status. Some students are obviously late achievers. Is there a remedial programme in these schools to assist them? This year I paid particular attention to Barbados since I have a granddaughter who took the secondary school entrance exam and was among the highflyers. In Barbados their examination is done in one day and involves English, Mathematics and Composition. According to the Barbados Today newspaper, quoting the Minister of Education, the tests are centred around comprehension skills, basic mathematical concepts, and the ability of candidates to comprehend expository text through open-ended, short answer question and their application of knowledge and skills to solve real problems.
I had recently expressed criticism of our two- day examination which in my view puts students and parents under even more pressure. I was particularly impressed with an editorial in the Barbados Today newspaper addressed to what it called Pupil #3379. It started as follows: “No, you were not among the handful of pupils who were the toast of a nation’s media, including this outlet, for perfect and near-perfect performance in the Common Entrance examination. Your name may not yet be featured in the pages of this newspaper. But do not doubt you are a hero or heroine to parents, guardians, grandparents, godparents, and family friends. And that is more than enough. For you have striven against a system designed to glorify the elite and pit future citizens against each other in a winner-take-all, taxpayer-funded, white-knuckle ride to adult citizenship. You are about to enter a secondary school for a place paid for in large measure by the blood, sweat and tears of your family and your ancestors who believed that education should be a right, not a privilege. Value it”.
It ends, “For you, dear Pupil 3379, the real journey is only just beginning.” The paper admits that like the others it was caught up with the success of the top achievers but recognises that much more needs to be said. While we wish continued success to the high achievers, we have to encourage those lower on the scale. We need to demand that our leaders pump more resources into those schools which are commonly and with reason, seen as second class, so that a student should not feel deflated if she gets into one of those schools.
The Barbados Prime Minister had stated publicly that it was their intention to do away with the secondary school entry examination and to refashion the whole system. She argues that “it puts too much pressure on a lot of our children and discards too many on the sidelines when they do not make the grade”. She has mandated her Minister of Education the task of beginning a process of Comprehensive Education reform and anticipates replacing the Common Entrance by a Middle school to take care of the 11 pluses. This should begin a real process of Education Reform. Who would want to disagree with that? That age is a critical one for those students. We need to have an on-going conversation on this matter, not an annual one.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian