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Students must first sign in

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by Andrea Bowman 05.DEC.08

Pee John’s article in last week’s edition of the Searchlight entitled ‘One must sign up or sign out!’ highlights a challenge that students, parents, teachers and the Ministry of Education have been attempting to cope with for years. However, Mr. John’s presentation of this challenge gives me the impression that the students who are not “signed up” are the innocent victims of an impersonal, uncaring system; and Mr. John knows that this is a misrepresentation of the complex reality with which we are dealing.{{more}}

The actual process of being “signed up” for CXC’s CSEC begins in the primary schools and the homes and communities that nurture students. Homes and communities that surround students with noise; raunchy, x-rated movies and DVDs; violent, aggressive music and language; lawlessness; ignorance and irresponsibility are not preparing students to be signed up. Poverty, in and of itself, does not prevent students from being signed up. We have far too many examples of students from poverty-stricken homes who have made it and made it very well through discipline, determination, focus and yes, assistance from many agencies designed to help in these circumstances. Schools where teachers ignore non-readers and children with learning disabilities are not preparing students to be signed up. Social promotion, where children are moved through the system on the basis of age and time, as opposed to merit and achievement, are again not preparing children to be signed up. Thus, when students get to the fifth form, there is enough blame to go around and an over-simplification of this problem does not help at all.

The CXC offers Caribbean Secondary Education Certification (CSEC) to students who demonstrate prescribed levels of proficiency and competence in a range of subject areas. When schools and teachers sign up students for CSEC, they are saying to the CXC: these students have completed the prescribed syllabi, test them and you will find that they are worthy of your certification. Of course, the CXC has to be paid to do this assessment / testing.

Schools ought not to sign up students who are clearly unprepared to merit such certification (in other words, pass the exam). The signing up of unprepared students works against the interests of the students, the teachers, the schools and the Ministry of Education. Students get a false sense of what it takes to receive certification when they are signed up inspite of non-performance. In addition to this, they are wasting their parents’ hard-earned money. Teachers run the risk of seeming incompetent when they enter unprepared candidates for exams. Schools are regarded as failing when a large percentage of their students do not qualify for certification after being entered for the exam, and the Ministry of Education is then blamed for not monitoring and controlling the outcomes of these schools.

Mr. John’s article almost seems to suggest that “signing up” is a student’s automatic right or entitlement, and this is what I find particularly subversive and dangerous. When Mr. John writes: “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 “whatever reason” cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. As Mr. John well knows, the “whatever reason” very often has to do with the student’s delinquency and unrepentant ill-discipline. Most of these students never signed in, and as educators we know that students must take ownership of their learning. Parents and teachers cannot want the discipline and the certification for students more than the students want it for themselves. Mr. John further states that “the practice of sign up or sign out is not fair, especially when there is no consistency across the country”. On the surface, this statement may be true, but as an experienced educator Mr. John knows how misleading such a statement is on its own. Consistency in signing up requirements for the wide range of subjects and the wide variety of students involved is an ideal which may not be practical.

Pee John, you know that the majority of teachers struggle to prepare students for signing up, do not make it seem as though we conspire to “sign out” students when you know that most of the students who do not qualify to be signed up never signed in.