Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Scrap CSEC? Really?

Published:Monday | August 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

That would be utter folly. The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is the gold standard of a well-crafted regional initiative to evaluate and certify academic and technical competence. Universities, colleges and employers all over the world have accepted CXC assessments.

The council, one of the most useful surviving regional enterprises, has proved itself nimble in adjusting the range of offerings to meet evolving workforce needs.

CXC is not perfect. Jamaica pays too much for its services, and the standard of some examinations is not as high as it needs to be if more of our graduates are to be world-competitive.

But we must stop dissing institutions of our own creation in the wrong-headed effort to show ourselves to be innovative. Of course, there are other reputable examinations. City & Guilds, for example, is accepted almost universally, but not until you pass its Level Three and Four is there broad equivalence with CXC. The same is true of the various vocational qualifications.

It is perfectly legitimate to arrange a suite of such comparable certifications for matriculation either to employment or to tertiary education and training.

The inescapable goal of the Jamaican education system must be to bring ALL school leavers - indeed, all citizens - excepting only those with serious mental or physical challenges, to CSEC or equivalent levels of competence and certification in English, mathematics, civics and social studies, information technology, basic science and an employable skill.

These have to become non-negotiable. Anything less is to dumb down the standards required for sustained development. It is to consign the people who we routinely dress up in the caps and gowns of graduation to cramped futures, expensive and dubious remediation.

How can you achieve prosperity for all and not just for the few out of that? We must be on a race to the top, not the bottom, of the education and training ladder.

Employers will pay more for higher-, not lower-, qualified staff. To try to persuade employers and the public to accept job readiness at lower levels than at present represents either desperation or misguided thought.

We should be troubled at the reported statements from the CXC itself and our Ministry of Education. First of all, employers already have to apply lower than five CSEC passes entry standards anyway, given the relatively small numbers who achieve those standards. This results in low productivity and explains the low-wage, plenty work-permit economy we are now celebrating. This is a problem we refuse to face squarely.

Adding more years of schooling upon a weak foundation is an inefficient response, because what is supposed to be a time for higher learning ends up as the latest attempt at remediating basics that should have been covered long before.

 

BIG CHALLENGE

 

So the big challenge for everyone to face is how to correct the crippling scandal of so many thousands of students who are so weak at grade 11 that they either cannot even enter, don't turn up to sit, or fail CSEC and other similar exams.

The big money we are boasting about giving high schools is very nice, but it's really like spending expensively on roofing your house when the foundation can't bear the weight. This is what will continue to happen this coming September morning at schools like Bog Walk High and Porus High, which receive students with GSAT scores well below 60 per cent.

Let us rethink why our early-childhood and primary institutions continue to 'graduate' students, the majority of whom are not ready, academically and often socially, to benefit from secondary schooling.

In the main, the problems lie with poor parenting, language confusion, and limited instruction skills. Tackling these will require far-reaching cultural shifts. They are compounded by deepening poverty.

In the short run, some real improvement can be achieved by schools transforming grade seven into an intense period of catch-up for all entrants with below-acceptable language, mathematics and social skills. Do this before starting the high-school syllabus.

This project will have to be intentional, carefully planned and officially mandated. Parents of underperforming students should insist on this. Stop labelling principals oppressors and extortionists and demand value for the fees we, the taxpayers, are charged.

It is better to do things right the first time in education rather than becoming embarrassed at failure later on, then trying to revise standards downwards. High academic, vocational and social skills are not alternatives. They are complementary.

Scrap CSEC? No way!

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.