The controversial Computer Science pre-test that quizzed 11-year-old students on their sexuality and gender identity, among other things unknown to their parents, did not pass through the Ethics Review Committee at the University of the West Indies.
This was confirmed by chairman of the committee, Dr Michael Campbell, who told Barbados TODAY he was surprised that the test found its way into secondary schools across the island without the committee’s approval.
Both the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training have since apologised for the test being administered to 733 first formers at five secondary schools.
Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw said the Ministry of Education had asked for the intrusive and inappropriate questions to be removed from the test.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Dr Campbell, who is also the Deputy Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the Cave Hill Campus, revealed that the committee had reviewed 150 projects in the last academic year from August 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022.
Dr Campbell said the committee had a formal relationship with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and a more informal one with other ministries and agencies in Barbados.
However, he said while the committee works with international organisations, the Computer Science pre-test administered by the IDB was not among the programmes submitted for review.
“We did not review this research project. I am surprised that this did not pass through the committee. This is the kind of project that we would welcome the opportunity to review.
“We really do see ourselves as a resource for researchers in Barbados and for institutions and I want to encourage people doing this kind of research and agencies and ministries doing this kind of research, to make use of the resources we have in Barbados,” Dr Campbell said.
He explained that having seen the 300-question test that was administered to the first-form students, several questions would have needed to be answered for it to have been allowed by the committee.
Dr Campbell said it would be difficult to say if that particular Computer Science test would have been approved.
“I saw what I think is the questionnaire but more importantly an Ethics Review application has several important components to it. The questions themselves might not be the issue because sometimes researchers do studies on sensitive topics but there are other important questions.
“First and foremost which I haven’t seen are what were the aims and objectives of the project? What’s the justification for including those health questions and those questions having to do with gender identity and all of that? Why is that important in this study and what research objective did they hope to achieve?” Dr Campbell queried.
“Another key issue is if you are collecting sensitive information and also collecting identifying information about research participants, what is your plan for data security and ensuring the confidentiality of research participants?
“Another issue is if you are conducting a study that is potentially distressing, what are the plans to safeguard the wellbeing of participants?”
Dr Campbell said the issue of consent of both parents and students was also a major one.
“If somebody has a research plan that involves asking sensitive questions to minors they would need to articulate why the study is important. They would need to have a clear plan to get informed consent from the parents…and if those things aren’t in place then it is unlikely that a project would be approved. We would send it back for revision or not approve it at all,” he pointed out.