Editorial | Prepare for online exams
The education authorities have been noticeably quiet about the revelation that the leak of a mathematics paper for this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams originated in Jamaica.
We hope their silence, or very limited public engagement of the issue, is not merely to avoid embarrassment, with the expectation that the matter will be resolved in backrooms and will eventually blow over. Which, of course, would not be good for our students and the integrity of the CSEC exams that are administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
For if indeed, as CXC says, the deed happened in Jamaica and the examination centre where the leak took place is known, then the culprits should be held to account and made to bear the full consequences of their action. Publicly!
At the same time, both CXC and the Jamaican authorities should say what is being done to strengthen the security of the examination papers and related material, and how transitioning to the electronic administration of the tests can be accelerated. Indeed, CXC should set a date for the transition, to which domestic examination bodies would be expected to adhere. Any derogation would have to be negotiated between the CXC board and participating countries.
A week ago, the same day students across the Caribbean region wrote paper two in the maths exam, the CXC acknowledged concerns that the paper had been leaked. The whispered, early rumours, without supporting evidence, was that the breach happened in Guyana. Later, however, CXC not only fingered Jamaica, but said it knew exactly where the leak took place.
“The security measures that CXC has put in place have led to us locating the country as Jamaica and the examinations centre there, where the leak originated,” said CXC’s registrar, Wayne Wesley, a Jamaican.
Dr Wesley did not name the centre.
The examination body says that it will now abandon that paper and use the results of a third paper in the maths exam, plus students’ school-based assessments (SBAs), to determine this year’s results.
It is not the first time that the security/integrity of CSEC exams has been breached, or called into question.
In 2008, tests in a number of subjects in CXC’s Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams were abandoned in Trinidad and Tobago when papers were leaked. Two persons were subsequently charged for that offence.
There have been rumours of other breaches, but these have been dismissed by CXC. However, a 2020 review of the grading of SBAs, conducted for CXC by a committee chaired by University of the West Indies Professor of Linguistics, Hazel Simmons-McDonald, concluded that there was a “lack of thoroughness and vigilance by teachers while marking SBAs, leading to the award of full marks, in some instances for areas that students did not even attempt”.
That, of course, is cheating by teachers on behalf of students.
The committee also commented negatively on the overall quality of SBA papers and projects, and proposed stricter moderation of these in-school assessments, with a bias towards a downward adjustment of scores. They also called for a resensitisation and training of teachers about the obligations in the marking of SBAs.
Perhaps distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jamaica has not said if it did anything to fix the problem. Neither has CXC reported what, if anything, has changed across the region on the SBA front.
It is important that these problems are fixed. While CXC has, in 44 years of existence, held its own among global examination bodies, that respect can quickly erode, placing regional students with CXC certificates at a disadvantage. That is why all education institutions and agencies across the Caribbean, including in Jamaica, have a stake in ensuring that the integrity is maintained and built upon.
We hope, therefore, that what is being experienced in Jamaica is not sullen silence because the country was fingered. Fayval Williams, the education minister, and her officials should want to expose the cheats.
CLOSE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Further, one way of limiting the inherent possibility of leaks in physically moving the actual examination papers across the region is to transition the exams online, which has happened on a limited, experimental basis.
Full migration has been slowed by the unevenness in broadband connectivity between countries, and regions within countries, in the Caribbean. That digital divide must close.
Minister Williams told Parliament this month that by the end of the current fiscal year, 690, or 68 per cent, of Jamaican schools will be digitally connected. The technology minister, Daryl Vaz, expects “the last mile” of national broadband connectivity by 2026-2027.
Jamaica should determine whether it will be capable, before then, of hosting properly invigilated, centrally administered digital exams – and what will be required, in schools and elsewhere, for this to happen.
There is work to be done – starting now.