The views and opinions expressed by the authors do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Ralph Jemmott
A headline in the September 7 press read “Plus Sign” and much of the content dealt with questions relating to the results of the 2021 Common Entrance Examination. Excellence is commendable in all areas of human endeavor.
Congratulations to everyone who did their best and especially to Master Jeremiah Browne and Miss Elena Bohne for their best performances. All students should be reminded that their education does not start and end with Eleven Plus.
My own attention has focused on the remarks attributed to Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw, Director of Education Ramona Archer-Bradshaw and Director of the Education Reform Unit Idamay Denny. Could it be that the 2021 Eleven Plus test is the last of its kind? Dr Denny is said to have said: “As the Prime Minister said and as I have said before, our intention was to move away from the common entrance exam.”
The big question has always been: what exactly is it to replace it? It may be typical of the way some things are done now in this country that changes are announced with little idea as to how the current system will be changed and with what consequences, intended or not.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley said earlier that when she was Education Minister she introduced a “partial zoning” system and now intends to “do everything”. No one knows what would constitute “the whole pork,” but that probably means full zoning.
This would suggest, for lack of a better term, an “understanding” of all schools, with all institutions taking into account the widest range of abilities, academic and otherwise. This would be the most revolutionary change to the institutional structure of education in Barbados since the Nicholson initiative of the 1870s. The report named after Nicholson introduced the hierarchical system of education that has survived with some modifications. until this day.
As with Republican status, we still don’t know what lies ahead. So far, there is nothing, even remotely, that emerges from the education reform program, but it is still only the beginning. A sort of plan is promised from September 30. Has anyone ever wondered what percentage of parents in Barbados want to abolish Eleven Plus and how many don’t? One wonders if the reformers understand the complexities of the business they have embarked on.
It’s surprising that we’re making such comprehensive changes even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. If the current numbers continue to rise, it is unlikely that there will be face-to-face teaching during the next St. Michael’s Day session. The risks are simply too great. Examining the subject of education in a post-COVID world, former US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan noted that the United States is entering the third grade of school affected by the pandemic.
During that time, he suggested that some 2.5 million children “didn’t go to virtual school,” in his words, “they just disappeared.” It is clear that online schooling cannot provide education to children to a similar degree to face to face teaching. This is especially true emotionally and socially. As Duncan concluded: “Children are social beings. It looks like COVID will be here for a while as we continue to experience difficult and confusing times.
Some apparently beneficial reform ideas are being considered. One is the notion of a lower first for weaker students entering secondary school. The first lower grades should focus on strengthening the basic reading, writing and numeracy skills required for future learning.
The curriculum at this level should not be overloaded with content. Another good idea is to allow fifths who can benefit from an extra year to repeat the fifth year. This will be on condition of appropriate academic and behavioral probity. Older students who bully younger students, sell drugs, or are openly rude and threatening to the teacher should be forced to leave or sent to reform school. As RV Goodridge said: “Schools teach values according to the standards they uphold. The problem with schools in Barbados, as with Barbados as a whole, is that we seem reluctant to stick to a standard.
Reformers will have to decide how to transfer students from elementary to high school. Most favor some form of continuous assessment, preferably at ages seven, nine and eleven.
There has to be some sort of testing to see if, how, and when the primary cohorts have mastered the primary curriculum.
Additionally, continuous assessment could be used to improve sanitation as needed. If all schools reflect a wide range of abilities, will there be a streaming or the student who now receives the equivalent of 98 in Math and 96 in English, with an A grade in the essay, will be sitting in the same classroom as a student receiving less than 25%? Streaming or tracking isn’t a bad thing given the level of cognitive differences that exist between children. A moderator who would have abolished Eleven Plus “a long time ago” once said to send every child to the next school, and all the children will learn. What papal filth! The cognitive growth of children is the result of many factors.
These include the inherited genetic abilities, the cultural and material economic well-being and the personal and parental motivation of the child. It seems that it took the fact that some children had not only an Internet connection but no electricity, to awaken people to the inequalities in living conditions that exist between children. They apparently never knew that some children go to bed hungry and wake up very little.
There is talk of some form of college, but few seem to know what form this entity would take. If an educator is right, it will not be a separate institution. Will it then be the same as what is called primary school within the framework of the current secondary? Instead of addressing these practical aspects, education officials seem overly concerned with articulating a lot of theoretical nonsense and pedagogical jargon to which discourse on education is too often subjected.
Abolishing Eleven Plus and instituting full zoning can cause more problems than it solves. All of the hoped-for benefits may turn out to be tangential and fleeting with little real change in overall results.
Ralph Jemmott is a respected retired educator.