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Talking education


Last Friday some 1642 Grade 6 students – 799 females and 843 males – took the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA). I was in Kingstown only for a brief period on that day and so was unable to monitor the situation. I expected, that as usually happens, outside the examination centres would have been packed with anxious parents and relatives whose presence, they hoped, would have given encouragement and moral support to the children taking their exams. It is a big day, surpassed perhaps only by the day on which the results arrive. Undoubtedly, there appears, today, to be a greater understanding of the significance of education and all hopes of parents and guardians are pinned on the performances of their children.

It is of significance that male students outnumber females at the CPEA, because the figures become reversed the further up the education ladder one goes. There were alarm bells rung at the most recent UWI Open Campus ‘recognition of graduates’ ceremony, when it was realized that male graduates accounted for less than 10 per cent of the graduating students. This is certainly not new, but is a continuing trend. For the year 2014/2015, 5,011 girls and 5,275 boys were registered at secondary schools in the state. At the Community College, one begins to see a significant shift, with 834 males and 1,346 females being registered. For all campuses of the University of the West Indies, our females again outnumbered males 215 to 116. For that year, the Open Campus would have itself reflected overwhelming female dominance.

The question is, why have so many males opted out of tertiary level education? Where have they gone? To the job market? To the ‘hills’? Where? We need to find an answer. Education cannot be seen in isolation. It is a critical element in the development of our society and the opting out of a large number of males, particularly at the higher rung of the education ladder, must have some significance. As I indicated previously, a colleague from Trinidad and Tobago is of the view that the missing boys were on the streets, as architects of an expanding crime wave. If we are seeking a revolution in education we should begin to see education in its widest dimension. Only then can education have meaning.

One of the major developments in the region since independence was the creation of the Caribbean Examinations Council. The replacement of the Common Entrance Examination by the CXC administered CPEA was certainly the way to go, as we search for a place in the global environment. Some alarm bells have, however, to be rung with CXC. First, it appears resource starved. Continuing calls will therefore be made for students to meet a higher percentage of the costs. Many recent innovations appear to the outsider to be cost cutting measures that can easily bring damage to an institution that we should be able to hold with pride.

There is, it appears, a continuing drive toward using technology for the wrong reasons. Table marking is no longer, as we opt for cheaper ways. Online examinations in situations where the schools are not well equipped with updated technology cannot simply be dismissed. The apparent move toward more group assessment must be thoroughly re-examined. There is the assumption that schools have adequate resources. In such a situation, students and schools are going to fall by the wayside. There are lingering concerns about standards, since we will ultimately be judged by how we fit into the global context. What is needed is a rethinking of our education system and a re-examination of how it relates to our overall development. Only then can we steer the ship in the right direction.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.