Jamaica Principals alarmed as CXC casts  uncertainty over four vocational subjects
Keith Wellington, principal of STETHS
Regional / World
May 28, 2024

Jamaica Principals alarmed as CXC casts uncertainty over four vocational subjects

The principals of some technical high schools [in Jamaica] expressed alarm on Tuesday over initial reports that the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) would be suspending four vocational subject areas next year, arguing that their schools would be most affected.

In what the Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC) has now said was an “untimely release” of information, CXC reportedly stated it will no longer be awarding certification for mechanical engineering at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC). Green engineering, electrical and electronic engineering and technology, and agricultural science, double award, will also no longer be certified at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency (CAPE) level due to low student enrolment.

The OEC, in a statement on Tuesday, clarified that the CXC has advised that territories or groups of territories across the Caribbean may decide to maintain the subjects, but they would only be allowed to do so under certain conditions.

But describing the non-certification of these subjects by CXC as a “slap in the face”, principal of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS), Keith Wellington, said the regional agency’s explanation of low enrolment is insufficient.

“The truth is CXC is only examining the subjects, they don’t bear the cost of teaching the subjects, so their only concern is that they are unable to bear the cost to examine the subjects and we find that this is unacceptable, in particular, when you bear in mind that CXC was set up by the governments of the region first of all to provide greater opportunities for our students to be certified and essentially to remove what existed then, which was mainly Britain-based exams,” he said.

He noted that STETHS offers a number of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) subjects, which sees an average of 30 students sitting CSEC exams for each subject area yearly.

Sharing his disapproval of CXC’s monopoly over terminal exams in the region, Wellington also noted that the move is in contradiction with the global push for more students to be engaged in TVET, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject areas, viewed as critical for the emerging job market.

Further, he argued that the decision by CXC may ultimately impact the availability of teachers.

“If these subjects are not offered as a part of the regular secondary school curriculum, it will eventually become impossible to find teachers to teach the subject area. Hence there will eventually become an even greater shortage of teachers capable of teaching these subjects,” he said.

In a statement to The Gleaner, CXC said syllabus discontinuance is a response it has undertaken to address underperforming syllabuses.

These syllabuses have successively low entries, low rates of success and limited educational value.

These factors impact the cost of operation of a syllabus and corresponding examinations.

It noted that it conducted a survey with regional ministries of education in 2023. Based on the feedback, it took the decision to suspend syllabuses for a definite period, during which it will discuss options with territories before the period of suspension has ended. This, it said, may include halting suspension and reintroduction of the syllabuses, if the demand has increased to the desirable level across the region.

But principal of Vere Technical High School in Clarendon, O’neil Lewin, told The Gleaner that his school has no intention of discontinuing the subject areas.

He said [it] is already considering alternative means of certification through City & Guilds or the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training.

Lewin noted that the technical subjects offered at Vere Technical are feeder programmes for bauxite company Jamalco, which is located in the parish.

Lewin lamented that students’ morale to do these subjects could be further impacted after learning CXC will not be certifying the examination.

“I figure that the numbers who choose that subject will fall because when we do the offering, it’s like a set of subjects – skilled areas – that they choose from. So you may have fewer students choosing mechanical technology and opting, for example, for electrical or building technology instead,” he said.

Meanwhile, principal of St Andrew Technical High School, Dr Worrel Hibbert, is perturbed that a move by CXC will result in more subjects coming under scrutiny.

He also shared concern about the lack of consultation by the organisation.

“They could have done some consultation before, but to CXC’s credit, though, they have given us at least a year’s notice,” he said. (Gleaner)