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What Common Entrance?


by Nilio Gumbs 29.MAY.09

The words “Common Entrance” connote a truly representative and seamless examination, where equity and equality will be the desired societal outcome from such testing.

Today, May 29th, over 2,300 pupils are sitting the Common Entrance Examination to gain places in the 26 secondary schools throughout this country.{{more}} After nine months of rote learning, they are being tested in three broad areas: Mathematics, English Language and General Paper.

Those who are deemed to have passed will obtained 150 out of a total 300 points, scoring no less than 35 per cent in any subject area.

The first 500 students will be assigned to the leading schools in this country: St.Vincent Grammar School, Girls’ High School, Thomas Saunders Secondary, St. Joseph’s Convent, and St. Martin’s Secondary.

Students who fall outside that number have no choice in deciding which school they will attend. They are usually assigned to secondary schools in their zonal district, or in other words, within close proximity to their residence.

Over the years, the pass rate has normally hovered in the 40’s percentage range. Why is this so? It is so easy to blame teachers or the school environment without looking at the curriculum and wider societal vagaries that affect most students’ ability to function competitively and effectively in the education system.

The Common Entrance Examination is a proficiency placement test, with little regard for one’s class background or the level or base from which one comes. For instance, someone’s performance may have improved by 100 percentage points even from a low base, but such is not rewarded but overlooked, in the present scheme of things.

The testing procedure of students is a continuous extension of our colonialist past, perpetuating conformity over creativity, without regard to local reality.

The Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, in what he called the “banking” concept of education, noted that students are viewed as empty accounts to be filled by the teacher.

Friere argued that students are incomplete, and education must make them aware of their incompleteness, and thus enable them to be fully human, consciously shaping the individual and society through a process of conscientization.

Building more and bigger institutions with the same outmoded colonialist curriculum will not solve the problem.

Frantz Fanon, in “The Wretched of the Earth”, noted the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern (rather than traditional) and anti-colonial (not simply an extension of the culture of the colonizer).

The popular culture in this society still sees education success not only by passing, but also going to the two legacy schools and obtaining so many O’levels, while inculcating in the student who does not obtain places in those schools the notion that they and the school they attend are failures. Yes, it does!

Anyone with a keen sense of observation can see the product of the education system while they tread the length and breadth of the country: the marginalization of males and youths in this society, growing informal economy, prostitution, drug cultivation and trafficking.

The large number of people who plant ganja in the hills or sit idly by the roadside burning spliffs or drinking on a daily basis are often brushed aside by many – as people who lack ambition or prefer an easy dollar, without thinking that it is the education system and the wider society which have failed these people with its failure to provide them with the skill sets or survivals skills to function outside the academic world and in the formal economy. What choice do they have?