Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Students forced to resit exams they have already passed
Jamaica's education ministry and several top secondary schools appear on a collision course over the decision by some schools that students must resit Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams that they pass before reaching grade 11.
"It is a waste of money to ask them to do it over since the ministry pays for it," Grace McLean, the acting permanent secretary in the education ministry, told The Sunday Gleaner.
According to McLean, the issue came before education ministry officials two years ago and a circular was issued instructing the schools to desist from the practice. However, the practice has continued and several parents last week complained to The Sunday Gleaner.
"My son received a grade one in maths that he sat privately while in fourth form, and now that he is going into fifth form, the school is insisting that he must do the exam again. That is madness," one irate parent declared.
"The schools want their numbers to look good, so they want the children to do the exam with them, although the child already has a grade one," said another parent
Last Thursday, McLean said it was fiscally imprudent of the schools to ask the Government to pay for subjects in grade 11 that the students already received a grade one or two for prior to reaching that grade level.
According to McLean, when the matter came to light two years ago, the ministry's position was that the schools should work out a programme that would facilitate those students.
McLean encouraged parents who are facing this situation to contact the education ministry. "If they bring it to our attention, we will intervene by dialoguing with the school," said McLean.
The acting permanent secretary also pointed out that some schools have made allowances, but insist that the students go to the classes even if they don't sit the exams in May or June.
In addition, McLean told our news team that some schools insist that the students retake the exams because it "affects their overall pass rate". This, she argued, was an incorrect approach because it is not student-centred.
"They are the ones that are important - not the statistics or averages, but each individual child," said McLean.
The highly sought-after St Andrew High School for Girls is one of the secondary institutions that insist that all their students sit the CSEC in grade 11, and it is not backing down.
According to Sharon Reid, principal of the school and president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, that position will not be abandoned as it is clearly documented in the school's handbook that is given to each student at grade seven.
"From the student joins the institution, it is clearly stated in the school's handbook that when you reach grade 10, it is a two-year course."
"We tell you that we are preparing you for that and not accommodating persons doing it before that," she added.
Reid said the school's philosophy of education is not centred on passing exams, but includes the instilling of discipline and a respect for order in the girls under its charge.
"If you want order, you can't have everybody doing what they like. It's not just about passing exams. There are other things we want to instil over the two years," said Reid.
She continued: "For us, education is not about getting 10 ones in CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council exams). We have several girls in grade seven who can get several ones if we allowed them to take the exams, but that is not what education is about for us at St Andrew."
The principal made it clear that she was not suggesting that her school's approach is right and the ministry's position is wrong.
DIFFICULT TO ACCOMMODATE
Reid argued that, because of the school's thinking on education, creating programmes to facilitate students who want to sit the exams early would be difficult to accommodate.
She also dismissed the claim that the school insists its students sit the exams at grade 11 because it is trying to prop up its pass rate.
"That would be very shallow thinking. St Andrew's policy predates that. The school is 87 years old. We are not so hung up ... . It is to do with our philosophy of education."
Reid said the school is prepared to fight if the education ministry issues an edict outlawing the resitting of exams in grade 11 if a child has already passed the subject.
"I am sure that my board would challenge it, but I am sure the ministry will accept dialogue. We would wish that they respect our philosophy of education," said Reid.