Teachers’ unions and lobby group say pandemic, volcano should force exam delay

The two main teachers’ trade unions are banking on the expression of concern from UNICEF about this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) to push the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to reform the exams as they have been prescribing for more than a year.

The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) on Tuesday noted that while Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw has recently been advocating for much-needed adjustments to the structure of this year’s exams, she has failed to attract the support of her regional counterparts.

Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) president Pedro Shepherd contends that with just days remaining before the planned sitting, it was simply a case of too little, too late to revive what is already a “lost” school year.

In a statement Monday, UNICEF’s top officials in Barbados, Belize, Jamaica and Guyana called for urgent interventions from regional Ministries of Education to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by seemingly rigid policies of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).

BSTU President Mary Redman declared that the mere fact that UNICEF had found it necessary to intervene was a “very sad reflection” of the current state of the regional examining body.

But she added that the statements made are consistent with BSTU positions from as early as April 2020 about the
need for more creativity and flexibility in the midst of a COVID-19 environment, which, this year, has been exacerbated for many by the La Soufriere Volcano eruptions in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Perhaps in too typical a fashion, the Caribbean people don’t value what comes from within and just as we have already stated, those facts will now carry some weight, having been gleaned from an international source,” Redman told Barbados TODAY.

Months ago, The BSTU wrote the requisite regional bodies calling for a greater element of choice in relation to the exam questions students are required to answer. The union also called for students to be allowed to defer their fifth form year, receive extensions for submitting school-based assessments (SBA) and more recently, that Paper 1 be removed from the exam.

The BSTU has also recently recommended that exam dates be delayed by three weeks to facilitate a July start for CSEC and CAPE assessments.

“These recommendations and the rationale for them have been made to CXC in meetings, through correspondence and in press conferences,” Redman added. “And even though there has been an attempt at some modification by CXC, those modifications have been made in a manner still as not to cause too much disruption to CXC’s operation, and they have not been done with enough consideration of the ongoing realities of Caribbean students and teachers in an ongoing pandemic.”

The BSTU leader also expressed disappointment at reports that Caribbean education ministers have not been forceful enough in the interest of students at the level of the CARICOM Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD)

“We are aware that more recently, our minister has attempted to champion the cause in relation to the modifications that need to be made, but reportedly too many others have been satisfied to continue, sit back and allow CXC free reign to the detriment of Caribbean students,” the union president explained.

“Many students are going into the 2021 examinations with plenty, plenty exam concerns unaddressed, and this whole matter continues to be a travesty on too many levels,” the statement added.

For his part, the BUT president pledged to keep a close eye on whether the Government’s response to the concerns expressed by UNICEF mirrors its response to domestic and regional stakeholders.

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