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One must sign up or sign out!

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by Philbert John 28.NOV.08

By the time this article is published, most, if not all, secondary schools will have completed the registration process for students sitting the CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. In common parlance, “signing up” has been completed and this represents one of the last hurdles that fifth formers must jump on their way to the successful completion of their secondary education.{{more}}

Unfortunately for several students, they have not been signed up to take the examination in several subjects. This stemmed from the fact that their subject teachers did not recommend that they be registered for his or her subject, since the students did not meet the criteria, whatever these are. Thus, after five years or more of pursuing a secondary education, hundreds of fifth formers around the country have been told that they are not fit enough to sit an examination. Some schools have even taken the draconian decision to expel those students who failed to qualify for a prescribed minimum.

Generally, students are offered a full course load consisting of eight subjects. When “sign up time” arrives, they must meet the criteria in no fewer than five subjects. This minimum varies from school to school. Indeed, some schools have allowed students to register for as few as three subjects. Failure to qualify may lead to demotion to the fourth form or expulsion from school. In a few cases, students who fail to qualify for the minimum may remain in school and in fifth form, providing that they sign up as private candidates!

Another disturbing feature of note is that the criteria for signing up or not signing up a student vary from school to school or even from teacher to teacher. In a few schools, every fifth former is registered to take the examination in all the subjects for which they enrolled (generally eight). Other schools administer a pre-qualification examination, commonly known as the “pre”. The student is then signed up for the number of subjects passed in the pre. Yet, in other schools, there is no such examination, and signing up is left to the sole discretion of the subject teachers. The teachers in these cases often take a host of academic and non academic issues into consideration in exercising this “discretion”. In a few cases, student preferences and parental approval are considered in making the final determination about what subjects a student takes for the CXC CSEC examinations.

Whatever the system used, the end result is often a large number of students left with nothing to do at certain times in the school day. Imagine a case where a student started fifth form in September taking eight subjects. That student had been occupied for every period of an eight period day. Then, by the middle of November, the student is told that he is now eligible to take just four subjects. What is this student to do during those free periods? Some students may use that time wisely. However, experience suggests that the vast majority of students use the free time to engage in undesirable and disruptive conduct.

Here is another scenario. A subject teacher begins the school year in September with forty fifth form students on roll in her class. By the time she is ready to “sign up” the students, she signs up only ten. What happens to the remaining thirty? Scenes like these are played out over and over again across the country. There are now hundreds of fifth formers languishing on the school premises or even on the streets during the course of the day because they were not signed up for the CXC CSEC examination in certain subjects.

The ad hoc and often inconsistent policies regarding registration for external examinations such as CXC CSEC mask a serious problem in our secondary schools that must be exposed and addressed. The authorities must give leadership in this regard. Several of the practices that have come to light severely contradict the progressive notions that fuel the national agenda for education. In short, they run counter to the ideals encapsulated in the “education revolution’.

It is not right for a student’s education to be curtailed because he has not been signed up for a subject for whatever reason. The practice of sign up or sign out is not fair, especially when there is no consistency across the country. The Ministry of Education must look into this matter now!

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