Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Whither system of continuous assessment?

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Today, nearly 4 000 students in Barbados will write the 2014 Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination as they vie for places in the island’s 22 secondary schools. Fortunately for them, it has been many decades since there were more students than available places, so on the face of it no child ought to be worried about not making it to the next level.
However, it is well known that the exam, by the virtue of how its results are treated, is designed to filter the first couple hundred “bright” boys and girls into the brand name schools, while the vast majority too often are left to feel inferior, even if those who are responsible for the system insist that’s not the intention.
While we wish all those taking the exam the best of luck, we also admonish them to believe in themselves and learn from the example of the many thousands who walked the path before them, ably demonstrating that regardless of where you start the race, the amount of effort you put in plays a far greater role in the level of your achievement.
Having said that, though, we believe we ought to make it clear that we hold the view that the Common Entrance Exam has long outlived its usefulness and that there are far more effective and less traumatic ways to effect the transfer of 11-year-olds from primary to secondary school.
And while we share the view expressed just two days ago by Minister of Education Ronald Jones that a shift to continuous assessment as the method of effecting transfers would have to be incrementally implemented, we believe the minister needs to be reminded that it must have been at least 15 years ago that parents were first informed by the ministry that it was moving to a system of continuous assessment.
At that time parents of Class 1 students were told that their children would be assessed over the next four years and that the results would go toward the scores to be applied to determine where they would receive their secondary education.
However, most of these students would have ended up writing the usual exam in Class 4, spending five or six years at secondary school, some going on to the Barbados Community College, Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic and the University of the West Indies and even being productive members of the workforce. The same has occurred every year since then.
Mr Minister, your ministry has had at least a decade and a half to “incrementally” implement a system of continuous assessment, if that was the route those responsible determined the country should take.
One of our biggest challenges in this country since Independence has been our propensity to talk as opposed to act. We have done well as a country, but in many areas of national life we are slipping – and only because for too long we have preferred to boast about what we have achieved rather than build on our achievements by remaining relevant.
“Incremental” has become a synonym for our national intellectual laziness.

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