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Don't be fooled by CSEC triumphs

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Alexis Goffe, Guest Columnist

Alexis Goffe, Guest Columnist

In a matter of days, this year's CSEC results will be released. If the past is any indication, the results will stir some lukewarm discussion and analysis of the results, but then there will be stories about the students who performed exceptionally well and/or triumphed over considerable odds stacked against them. These students have undeniably achieved much and their success should be celebrated; however, these stories represent the exceptions rather than the rule.

Our tendency as a nation to thrive on exceptions poses a great danger to the thousands of other students in our education system. Focusing on these exceptions diverts attention from the reality of the larger population of students.

The results are staggering. Consider the following five-year data:

There tends to be a significant decrease of the student cohort between GSAT and CSEC. For example, while 42,200 students were in the 2013 fifth-form cohort, 48,739 students in that same cohort sat the GSAT in 2008. It is important for us to account for the remaining 6,500 who are no longer enrolled in school. Undoubtedly, factors such as migration and death account for a portion, but one wonders how many have dropped out because of financial reasons, having a disability, mental-health challenges, or being expelled.

One out of every six students in fifth form passes five subjects, including mathematics and English language. In raw numbers, for the past five years, only 33,708 students out of 211,856 achieved this.

On average, 21 per cent and 38 per cent of fifth-form students pass mathematics and English language, respectively. This is significantly less than the percentages traditionally reported because these percentages take into consideration all those who were in fifth form and had the right to sit the CSEC examinations, not just those who actually sat the exam.

The last point is particularly distressing: All students do not have an equal opportunity to sit CSEC exams. Most students have to receive permission from each subject teacher to take that CSEC subject. In other words, students have to prove at a particular point in time that they have earned permission to take these exams, which are not a privilege for a few, but a right for all.

This discriminatory practice has been used as a face-saving strategy for schools and the Government to underestimate their failure to fulfil their mandate to provide all children with the tools to sit the CSEC exams. These are not just any exams; they are essential to providing access to employment and further education for students. It sends the message that we do not believe all students should have the right to the same educational opportunities, denying thousands of citizens their fundamental rights and dignity.

While the National Shared Vision declares, "The education system will be equitable and accessible with full attendance to grade 11," the truth is that the vast majority of the children go through the system either being denied the opportunity to take CSEC exams or not obtaining passes in English language and mathematics.

So, while we celebrate the children who gain exceptional results, we also must be honest about the challenges that remain, pledge never to give up, and insist that our Government does the same.

Alexis Goffe is a human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and alexis.goffe@gmail.com.