THE CARIBBEAN Examinations Council (CXC) should pay careful attention to the concerns raised by teachers regarding the decision to proceed with examinations in July. Staying the course without adequate consultation risks foisting an unfair and unsound process on students and teachers.
The dilemma faced by CXC is not a simple one. Not allowing the assessment process to move forward could result in a “lost generation” of students. Postponing examinations this year could simply result in double the workload next year. It could also disrupt the system and affect the personal plans of students and families.
At the same time, the decision to focus on take-home components, such as school-based assessments (SBAs) and easy-to-administer multiple-choice papers, could help reduce some of the stresses that students are facing in these unusual circumstances.
Further, such modes of assessment chime with the long-held belief among many educators that our examination culture results in skewered results because it places too much stress on our children. And yet, it’s worth paying attention to the issues raised this week by TT Unified Teachers Association president Antonia De Freitas and the Caribbean Union of Teachers.
They have noted serious challenges remain when it comes to specific subjects. These include the vocational subjects – such as garment design and furniture making – subjects involving lab work, and subjects in the visual and performing arts. Many of these would require access to resources in schools or at specific sites that may not be safe. With the timeline of de-escalation of the current lockdown subject to constant review, it’s not clear if these students will even have access to the things they need to complete their SBAs.
It is also the case that some teachers and students do not have access to technology. Some share devices with family members. Some live in households where productivity is hindered. The notion of SBAs being a fairer, less stressful means of testing is not completely true in every case.
The lack of a functioning verification unit in Jamaica also underlines the absence of support measures that would normally enhance the rigour of the assessment process. It all amounts to a situation in which students, despite appearances, might actually end up getting the short end of the stick.
CXC must carefully examine the proportion of students for whom even the SBA/multiple-choice paper route will be simply unworkable. It must also assess whether special measures could be put in place to deal with the teachers’ concerns. In a changing world, teachers might find it harder to adapt than their charges. But they, too, should keep an open mind.
At the end of the day, CXC must determine whether vacating this school year would be less costly to students than forcing them to sit exams, however formatted, at this time.