Sunday, April 21, 2024

OFF CENTRE: Common Entrance . . . elitist exit

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De day was May 8. Last Tuesday. The so-called Common Entrance or 11-Plus or (years ago) the Screaming Test (given that label – not inappropriately – by the supposedly ill-informed, who perhaps understood more than they were given credit for).  
Well, this year’s done and gone.
And now we wait . . . .
For Godot? For a “good school” result? Or for some God-awful what-next?
Most children, I think, would have loved to approach the exam as normal, children-will-be-children children, but the authorities, the parents and the society have conspired to make this a time of excessive anxiety, of the spawning of superiority and inferiority complexes and divisiveness and even, I am going to say it, benign neglect.  
These children will be another generation living partly in the dark. Don’t forget: children live what they learn. In the same way that racial hatred is a learned behaviour, so too is a sense of superiority or inferiority, which create their own anxieties and separations and lowered commitment.
How did we get here?  
Used for the right reasons, a test is a good tool. So there is nothing wrong with a national standardized test at the end of primary school. In truth, there should be such tests at other points in children’s schooling as well. But who in their right mind creates (in our case, persists with) a test for 11-year-olds with the main purpose of sorting and labelling them?  
Perhaps such a focus is understandable at the end of secondary school (CSEC/O levels, CAPE/A levels) or university (Bachelor’s, Master’s, doctorate) – where the exams, please note, are not national assessments.  
A national assessment’s main purpose should be accountability – of the system!
The results of such a test should be viewed primarily as a report on our teaching frameworks, systems, processes, and efforts, and not a chance for a school to simply say that a number of its students “got into” this or that “prestigious” school.
Stakeholders should know what percentage of students at Ezekiel Brown Primary School met or exceeded the national Class Four expectations (that is, achieved the pass mark) in each area. (Incidentally, I believe the pass mark for the subjects in this exam should probably be 60, because there are a significant number of multiple choice items and no mechanism to dampen the effect of guessing – what in psychometrics they call “correction for guessing”).
Instead, we have made stratification the virtually exclusive focus. Apart from being educationally suspect, the hierarchical use of the exam is socially divisive and can accurately be deemed state-sponsored stigmatization of thousands of students – in fact, the long-standing and widespread indifference to what it does to our children in both their short-term and long-term futures is a blot on the character of at least two generations of Barbadians.  
It flies in the face of the best practices in school systems worldwide, which aim for social cohesion and equitable distribution of real educational opportunity, and which show that you don’t have to stratify in order to achieve widespread student success.  
And there are more dangers: that approach also sets in train earlier systems of hierarchical allocation, which work themselves out on the basis of a tacit but illegitimate view that significant numbers of children are not able to achieve school success, which in turn virtually encourages a failure to move heaven and earth to get it right the first time for the vast majority of primary school children.
It has also given birth to this self-deceiving mantra: “It does not matter which secondary school you attend.” Which I gine examine (catspraddle?) next week, along with another popular statement about the exam.
But let me just throw in this reality check: if the secondary school an 11-year-old child attends matters not, why have a whole island-full of activity, close secondary schools, induce near heart attacks, take teachers out of school for days to mark the scripts, and so on, for the main purpose of deciding which school a child will attend? Anybody who says it does not matter should be in the forefront of a national push to remove the sorting aspect of the exam.
Face it: it does matter – in a lot of wrong ways and for a lot of wrong reasons, not least of which is intractable elitist thinking.
Wuh loss! This Buhbaydus!

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