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Academic qualifications – Not enough or too much?


When are one’s academic qualifications not enough and can one overdo it in the pursuit of certification?

Over the last few days, Vincentians have been engrossed in discussions surrounding this topic, spurred by the announcement by the New Democratic Party (NDP) of their candidate to contest the East St George constituency, and the release by the CXC of the results of the 2017 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Examinations (CSEC).

The NDP has replaced the multi-lettered Dr Linton Lewis with disc jockey Colin Graham, who has made a name for himself outside of academia. Some have expressed surprise at the NDP’s decision questioning Graham’s suitability to be a representative and parliamentarian in an era when tertiary level certification has all but replaced a high school diploma as the basic requirement for many white collar pursuits.

But while Graham may not reach up to the standard set by some, based on the Constitution of this fair land, he satisfies all the conditions of eligibility to hold political office. Additionally, at the age of 40, Graham’s life experiences should have made him sufficiently aware of the issues and able to make reasoned decisions and be a persuasive advocate on behalf of his constituents.

But while Graham’s suitability for political office is questioned because of what is perceived as an insufficiency, in the same breath, many Caribbean youths who write large numbers of subjects at the CSEC level are chastised for seemingly aiming too high.

This year, a 16-year-old Guyanese boy was successful in all 25 CSEC subjects he wrote, securing 24 grade one passes and one grade two. Closer to home, Iana Ferguson of the Girls’ High School secured 19 passes with 18 grade ones and one grade two in one sitting.

Many sceptics of the growing trend where students write large numbers of subjects accuse these students of being bookworms and having one dimensional lives. Clearly, attempting such feats is not for all students, as tremendous discipline and great academic aptitude and capacity are required if the student is to be successful.

Whenever these over achievers are interviewed, most say they wanted to challenge themselves to see if they had the capacity. So what could be wrong with a student setting his or her sights high, and working to achieving it? Certainly, any consideration to embark on such a course should originate with the student and the decision made by them in consultation with teachers and parents. These children obviously should also have track records of academic exceptionality.

This is a debate which is being had around the region, with the Ministry of Education in Guyana proposing that a cap be set on the number of subjects students may write at the CSEC level. The thinking there is that Guyana’s children are not well rounded enough as too much time is spent studying and not enough on extra and co-curricular activities.

In all honesty, the claim of not being well rounded is not true for most of these exceptional performers, who also master the extra and co-curricular activities they participate in.

Interestingly, the Guyanese student referred to earlier said he did it “for fun”, while our top scholar Iana Ferguson has dismissed her achievement as “not a big deal.”

The point is, we all operate on different levels and all an academic certification indicates is that one has achieved a benchmark set by an examiner. While such certification may be regarded as an indicator of one’s academic potential, it measures a single aspect of the multidimensional nature of human ability.