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Caught in Crossfire

  • Written by  The Editor

Of the 1740 students who wrote the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA) examination, about forty were deemed unfit for selection to a secondary school; at least those were the sentiments expressed by Education Minister. Consequently, that sparked off national debates and outcry particularly from those associated with the “rejected” students as well as the more rational thinkers, and to the students’ embarrassment.

It was hinted that these students would be placed in special classes back in the primary schools and be given special attention.

At one time each secondary school held its own entrance examination. Next, it was the Ministry selecting students through a Common Entrance exams based initially on a cutoff point, then afterwards on the number of places available at the nation’s secondary schools. Currently, through the CPEA, all students from the primary schools of the required age are sent to the secondary schools, and this newest process came into effect during the regime of the last NDC government. It was made to believe that there are – would be, NO FAILURES hence the reason for national outcry. 

For argument’s sake: consider the student who is at the bottom of the “pass” list and the student at the top of the “failed” list; who is to determine that, and under what criteria would the student in the former category perform better in secondary school than the student in the latter category? It was not indicated during the introductory process of the new system that there was a cutoff point and that students scoring under that minimum would be denied secondary school places. In fact, it is also known that scores at an examination are not always the strict and final determinant for overall academic performance. The former Minister of Education in the last regime always emphasized that ALL STUDENTS would be given places. 

It is difficult to rationalize how the mechanism would be implemented according to the directives of the Minister of Education. Realistically, these rejected students would simply be put back into the regular primary school system along with the next set of candidates, and all to the embarrassment of the students themselves with the anger and frustration of their parents and all concerned. Take a school where only one student was denied the opportunity: in all practicalities, what kind of and how many specialist teachers would be assigned to that one student?

What it all boils down to now is that the hand of politics seems to be at work, where the “fail” list is used by the current Ministry officials to dent and frustrate the finalities of the previous Ministry officials. There is absolutely no rationale for the perception that the last forty on the pass list would outperform the forty on the “failed” list during secondary school. To suggest that the forty unfortunate students would be better off remaining in the primary school for specialist attention rather than sent them to the secondary school to give teachers trouble is absolutely ridiculous. 

It has been the cry for a long time now, even with the former Common Entrance exams, that students entering the secondary schools are poor in reading. There has never been evidence of any serious concerted effort on the part of Ministry officials to induce correctives notwithstanding remedial work on reading in schools. These unfortunate forty students are simply caught in the political crossfire and, in a real sense, are victims of a failed system. The mental math quiz could be seen in the same light, as a means of correcting what is realized today as students’ inability to think and solve problems mentally.

The Minister of Education should use his influence in getting Ministry officials to revisit the failed list and let the forty students in; these “victims” could never be more problematic in the secondary schools than those of previous years. Common logic would also dictate that they stand a much greater chance of getting better remedial care from teachers in the secondary schools that those in the primary schools. Educational officials step aside of the politics, of irrational speculations and of unreasonable assumptions; diminish the embarrassment of the “unfortunate victims” and send them to where their better care is obviously guaranteed – that is if the Minister is serious in his rhetoric about their wellbeing. The Education Minister and his advisors must do the conscionable thing: open up the floodgates and let the students in.

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