UNICEF urges adjustments to CSEC, CAPE

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is urging the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to seriously consider proposals made by the federation of teachers’ trade unions in the region to make adjustments to this year’s school-leaving tests.

The call from the United Nations agency comes ahead of today’s meeting of CXC’s governing council to discuss and approve final examinations and procedures for 2021, given the setbacks to education triggered by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

UNICEF, in a news release yesterday, expressed concern over CXC’s decision to maintain the upcoming Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) for students as currently designed.

The agency called on CXC and ministers of education in the region to make adjustments to the content and administration of the exams in line with recommendations provided by the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) “to ensure that the region’s school students are not further disadvantaged”.

UNICEF said it acknowledged the efforts already made by CXC in reducing certain requirements for the examinations and making concessions, such as:

(i) providing the topics for the long answer paper (Paper 2) five weeks prior to the commencement of the exams;

(ii) reducing requirements for the SBAs and extending submission dates for some subjects;

(iii) facilitating deferments to 2022 if students meet specific criteria; and

(iv) the currently discussed further postponement of the examination date.

“However, there are still a number of issues which require more substantial changes and flexibility,” UNICEF said. “For example, no change has been made on the multiple-choice paper (Paper 1) which will still cover the entire syllabus, and no clear structure was shared as to how those students who meet deferral requirements and choose to defer will be supported to sit the exams at a later date in 2022.”

Against that background, the UN agency said it was requesting that consideration be given to “further simplify the content and the methodology of the exam across all subjects and adapt the timeline to the challenges currently faced by the students to ensure equitable accessibility and participation for every student”.

This, as per the CUT’s recommendations, include:

i) Paper 1 should only test rationalised topics that are tested in Paper 2, and not the entire syllabi, as the said syllabi would not have been completed;

ii) for Paper 2, remove all hurdles including compulsory questions and ensure that no one question item should test two or more content areas; and

iii) extend the start of the examination by three weeks and release the rationalised broad topics immediately to students and teachers in order to facilitate effective preparation.

UNICEF also suggested that, in order to provide extra support to students, Caricom education ministries should expand and intensify the provision of mental health and psycho-social support for children as they prepare for the exams.

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