Editorial | No dumbing down of CSEC, CAPE
Ronald Thwaites is right about the long-term disenfranchisement it would be to Jamaican students if exams that test their knowledge and competencies at critical junctures of their education were dumbed down this year. He is correct, too, about the need for an urgent and safe return to in-class teaching, to help students close big gaps in their schooling because of the coronavirus pandemic.
We also support Mr Thwaites’ suggestion for a repeat of this year’s syllabi so that students who have fallen behind – the vast majority – can catch up on what they missed. For it is common ground that only a minority of students are regularly logged into digital classes since face-to-face teaching was halted last March.
We, however, have a slightly different take on the former minister’s call for the postponement of the primary exit profile (PEP) for grade six students and the literary and numeracy assessments for those at grade four, as well as the Caribbean Examination Council’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE). Parents who, in consultation with teachers, believe that their children are ready for PEP and the grade four assessments should allow them to have a go. At the secondary level, those students who are confident about their preparation for CSEC and CAPE should be allowed to sit what should be the full-bore exams. Not watered-down versions.
We have one proviso. At the primary level, there should be no automatic advancement of students who sit out the tests. They must be properly accommodated to catch up on their preparation. Similarly so at high schools, although this might mean having to adjust the policy to increase by a year, or two, the age at which students can remain. These accommodations can’t be beyond the creativity of Jamaicans.
However, with the first element of the PEP assessments scheduled for next month and CXC preparing for its approaches to this summer’s regional exams, it is urgent that the education minister, Fayval Williams, after consultations with key stakeholders, including parents and teachers, articulate a policy position on these proposals. The dialogue, however, oughtn’t to be a closed-door affair. It must be a transparent engagement in which all the issues, in their appropriate context, are fully aired.
In this regard, the bases of which Mr Thwaites raised his concerns are relevant. The effect of COVID-19 on the delivery of education, and the controversies over last year’s CXC exams are well known. It is how some educators and policymakers seemingly want to respond to them that is for us – as it is for Mr Thwaites – problematic.
For example, Mr Thwaites noted Linvern Wright’s, the president of the Jamaica Association of Principals (JAP), Christmas Eve interview with the Jamaica Observer, about the expected unpreparedness of Jamaican students for the CXC exams. He proposes, in the circumstances, that CXC provides “options for students to show their skills and competencies, but not necessarily demand the side coverage that would only be possible in a normal year”. His argument found favour with Minister Williams, who said her ministry “shares these concerns and has begun negotiations with CXC”.
We agree with Mr Thwaites that any such move would represent a disastrous “watering down” of already inadequate standards and would be “an act of contempt and cruelty to all students who are affected”. Put another way, that would be settling for second-rate status and an act of retreat by Jamaica in preparing its citizens for the technology-driven world in which they will have to compete. This mustn’t be tolerated. And not only at the secondary level.
This newspaper previously proposed a popular, national dialogue on education, which is to say one that isn’t only for policymakers and about pedagogy, but includes the rest of us who have a stake in, and may have something to contribute about how the society can overcome the challenges COVID-19 has posed for education.
Mostly, we know what the teachers’ organisations, like Mr Wright’s JAP and the overarching union, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, are against. Perhaps in our proposed forum, they can publicly table constructive solutions.