The decision by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to revoke the grades of the entire sixth-form cohort at Jamaica College who sat physics at the 2013 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Physics Examination is both embarrassing and disturbing and might have caused irreparable damage to Jamaica's education system.
This episode speaks to the glaring lapses within the education system and the urgent need for quality-assurance measures to be instituted from the primary to tertiary level.
Meantime, CXC's judgement should be commended. It should be viewed as an opportunity for all stakeholders to safeguard the integrity of our examination. Quality assurance is the systematic review of educational programmes to ensure that acceptable standards of education, scholarship and infrastructure are being maintained.
However, a significant part of our problem is the fact that we do not have a sufficient history of quality-assurance practices in this country.
With the recent developments, our students have seen, first-hand, the dangers of cheating.
Intellectual property breaches
Jamaica now has the opportunity to put in place measures to ensure we do not have a repeat of this embarrassing situation. However, we must first address the tendency to downplay the importance of intellectual property rights.
For some reason, we do not value creative work such as poetry, music and choreography of dance pieces as sacrosanct. We need to work harder at changing that culture. Maybe this is an ideal time for the Ministry of Education to incorporate plagiarism into the social studies curriculum for grades seven to nine, and even to the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.
We must admit that too many individuals of questionable background are in the teaching profession - from classroom teacher to principal. We should not be alarmed if more instances of plagiarism, as in the case of Jamaica College, of cheating and irregularities are not found throughout our schools.
By virtue of being a principal, one automatically assumes the role of chief executive officer. To claim lack of knowledge regarding what is happening in one's school is totally unacceptable of one holding such an office. Additionally, this lack of foresight speaks volumes to one's management skills and leadership style, as well.
Checks and balances
What if the former physics teacher at Jamaica College did not tip off CXC regarding the issue of plagiarism? Can we be sure this grave and unethical offence was happening for the first time?
What is the role of the Ministry of Education regarding issues of quality assurance for our regional and national examinations?
What disciplinary measures will be taken against the physics teacher who is at the centre of the controversy? What about the head of department and vice-principal in charge of academic affairs? Were they doing their job in terms of monitoring and evaluating the staff and the department in question?
Will CXC be reviewing past examinations in light of this most unfortunate development?
Should the Ministry of Education now explore the possibility of storing regional and national examination papers at centralised locations across the country rather than at the respective schools?
Let us not fool ourselves when we operate unethically: This is a wake-up call for all schools to put their house in order and abide by guidelines regarding school-based assessments and the sitting of examinations.
I am reminded that a few years ago, the Grade Six Achievement Test went through an embarrassing affair after it was discovered that students at a particular school had seen the examination before the schedule date of the test.
Tek sleep and mark death. It has always been alleged that some teachers are in the habit of doing their students SBAs. I would implore any teacher involved in such reprehensible behaviour to discontinue this unprofessional practice. As an educator, your job is to guide your students, not to find means to facilitate them in cheating.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.