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CPEA stress time again! Some reflections

CPEA stress time again! Some reflections
Parents and guardians camped outside one of the Common Entrance Examination centres waiting on their wards to exit the school.

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Today, 16 centres throughout SVG will accommodate about 1,785 Grade 6 students for the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment examination. This exam is still in its early stage, having recently replaced the Common Entrance Examination. Coming along with it, are the immense stress and agitation on the part of both parents and students. Entrance to secondary school is no longer an issue. What are at play are the secondary schools to which these students will be admitted and the possibility of qualification for scholarships. Is there really a need for a two-day exam? Isn’t it doubly stressing out the students? They write multiple choice exams in four subjects – Maths, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies for which they get 60 percent, with the other 40 coming from a School-Based Assessment that involves Teachers’ tests, a project writing portfolio and Book report among others.

I note that in Barbados students write examinations on the day in only Mathematics and Language. Why do we have to put our students through all of this at this tender age? One of the features on the two days would be the camping out of parents on the grounds of the centres where the examinations are held. They are, of course, as stressed, or even more stressed than the students, as they hope for the best from their children or those for whom they act as guardians. I guess the experts would give sound arguments to justify having exams over two days and the number of subjects they are required to do. I have no problem with the school-based assessment once it is properly organised and done by the students themselves. There obviously would not be the kind of pressure that would exist on the days of the written exam.

I prefer the Barbados model. English and Mathematics are core subjects on which the students should definitely be tested. With English comes comprehension that should be central. I treasure students’ capacity to write a proper paragraph or essay and to be able to answer questions observing grammatical rules and syntax. Competence in English is something that will be a key asset as they move along the educational ladder. Then there is Mathematics. This features in everything. It is central to science and life and is now widely used even in the social sciences. It is important for young students to start their secondary school careers with competence in these two core areas. Once they can master those then they will be better able to handle other subjects offered at secondary level. I see the importance of doing Social Studies at school, but to me not as a test for entry to the secondary level.  Science is important, but it is often badly handled at the primary level. Although the same can be said for mathematics, I still see the latter as critical to one’s passage to the next phase of the education ladder. This is my view and I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on this.

I note a drop in the number of students taking the exam. In 2018, 1,837 wrote out of 1,846 registered. This year it is down to 1,785 registered students. This is made up of 930 males and 855 females. Is there a tracer study system in place? It might be useful to trace students’ performance at CPEA and compare it to performance at CSEC. The tracer study should also compare the number of boys and girls exiting at both the secondary level and Community College.

Best wishes to all students writing the exam with the hope that stress and anxiety will not negatively affect their performance. 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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