The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has accepted full responsibility for the controversial Computer Science test that was administered to first form students in Barbados on Monday.
In a recent press release issued, the IDB admitted that even though the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training objected to certain questions being included on the test, the test was still disseminated to students in its original format.
And while the Ministry of Education came under fire for sanctioning the test that was said to be commissioned by code.org, the IDB admitted its fault in not adhering to the ministry’s demands to remove the specific questions.
The IDB said the questions were subsequently removed from the test.
“The Inter-American Development Bank expresses regret that a survey administered by the Bank to children in the Barbados secondary school system has offended many Barbadians.”
Irate parents of some of the students who took the test on Monday told Barbados TODAY that their children were subjected to “distasteful and invasive” questions in the Computer Science pre-test, including some that quizzed them on their sexuality, gender identity, substance use and abuse as well as personal information about their parents.
The test was said to contain close to 300 questions and students were given two hours to complete it.
The IDB’s statement said: “The Bank sincerely apologises, but stresses that no offence was intended. The questions at the centre of concern, to which the Ministry of Education had objected prior to the administering of the survey and which were inadvertently left in the paper, have been removed,” it said in the press release.
“The IDB recognises its position as a development partner with the Government of Barbados, with a long and mutually-respectful relationship, and assures Barbadians it would not deliberately engage in any practice that would harm that relationship.”
Sources close to the situation told Barbados TODAY an apology was demanded by Minister of Education Kay McConney this evening during a meeting with officials from the IDB at the ministry’s Constitution Road headquarters.
The source said an initial apology in which the IDB sought to explain its reasons for including the controversial questions was rejected by the ministry.
According to the source, the controversial questions said to be in line with “international standards” were intended to capture the overall impact of the project.
The source explained that the Code Caribbean project was aimed at bridging the skills gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by teaching students computer science, which has been proven to improve development outcomes for students beyond coding skills.
Both the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados National Parent Teacher Association (BNPTA) had earlier in the day called on the ministry to urgently explain the circumstances which led to the test being administered in the first place.
Before the release of the IDB statement, President of the BUT Rudy Lovell told Barbados TODAY the longer the ministry remained silent on the issue the more questions would be asked.
“The BUT is asking the ministry to clear the air on the administering of the test that has been so controversial in the last couple of days. It is our belief that the ministry needs to come to parents and to the general public to outline the rationale behind the test and to put the minds of parents at ease.
“It can open a can of worms and we would want to know what is the rationale behind asking these questions because obviously this is not what
we are accustomed to…Something needs to be said about the test and maybe if the rationale for the test is made known and it is in line with what the expectations are for the rationale, then people may understand. But to not say anything at all, the ministry is causing it to spiral out of control,” Lovell said.
Nicole Brathwaite, the general secretary of the NCPTA agreed that an explanation was needed.
“I was made aware today of the situation and I think it warrants some clarity and some explanation as well from the end of the Ministry of
Education because in the context of a Computer Science class it doesn’t seem to make good sense in terms of the type of questions that were being asked. Had it been perhaps a HFLE [Human and Family Life Education] class or a guidance class
I think parents would understand the context and perhaps would have been more understanding…” Brathwaite said.
“In any case, any such questions should have been vetted and parental consent sought…So it is something definitely that we would want the ministry to clear the air on.”
Brathwaite said she hoped that in the future any such tests would be properly vetted by the ministry before being disseminated to students.
Spokesperson for the Group of Concerned Parents of Barbados Paula-Anne Moore had also described the development as “tragic and avoidable.”
She said the test “did not appear to be consistent with internal best practice standards relating to health data and its confidentiality” particularly as it relates to parental rights and communications with minor children.
Moore said the test might have been triggering and traumatic to some of those who took it.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) Working Group on Education, Family and Social Inclusion, Melissa Savoury-Gittens also demanded answers from the ministry.
She described the development as “disheartening” saying it was an invasion of the students’ and their parents’ privacy.
“The DLP is calling on the minister to tell parents why they weren’t made aware of this ‘test’ and the type of questions that it would contain and sought their approval? Why is it even called a ‘test or an exam’? What is being checked in terms of performance? What were the intended results that were to be meted out? Did the students pass or fail?
“How can the ministry survey minors about sex and sexual desires without their parents’ permission, furthermore with their names attached to this document? Did anyone check to see what discriminatory practices would come about based on the answers which students provided? How can we guarantee that students would not be isolated or bracketed, based on their responses?” Savoury-Gittens asked in a statement.
“We need the Ministry of Education to come and tell us what this test was about. Parents have a right to be upset. The minister needs to do her job.”
The “pre-test on Computer Science” was formulated by an organisation called code.org. which is described as a non-profit organisation dedicated to expanding participation by young students from underrepresented groups.