Written by Yvonne Reynolds

On August 11, 2018 the Antigua Observer newspaper published two articles about the newly released 2018 CXC (CSEC) results.  The section on “Trending Stories”, which tracks the number of views/clicks received by a story, caught my attention.  As of August 14th  (three days later) the number one story viewed/read was Significant improvements in 2018 CSEC results followed by Jumpy soca monarch admits shock, then the third most popular story was Too many still performing poorly at CSEC.

Of the two articles written about CXC-CSEC exams that day, the former article with a positive headline was read three times more than the other with a negative perspective.  (10,102 times to 3,509)  The Observer newspaper itself published an editorial entitled A broken record which attracted only 3 comments – all of which were insightful and well worth the reading.  On Voice of the People – an Observer mid-day radio show broadcast for two hours – of the many calls received that day and two days thereafter, only one caller mentioned the topic of the CXC exam results, raising alarm about the findings of the current registrar, Glenroy Cumberbatch.

It was truly amazingly comedic to see the semantic gymnastics done by the journalists to cherry-pick the statistics and to use positive figures of speech to whitewash the stated facts by the registrar.  An averaged  41% failure rate was couched as a 59% passing rate and hailed as a great improvement when compared with just one year’s (prior) worth of data

“Students from Antigua and Barbuda and other parts of the Caribbean, who sat the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination in June have done exceedingly well compared to last year.”)

Of course it would be remiss of me not to remind the reader that average is a mathematical concept which simply adds disparate numbers and then divides the calculated sum by the number of numbers that were added up.  Therefore if we add 2+6+10+12 we get 20, which when divided by 4 (number of numbers) gives us 5 (average number).   5 is larger than 2 and way smaller than 10.  It should not comfort us here in the Caribbean that he (Cumberbatch) specifically mentioned/praised Grenada with a 63% passing rate that was above the average.

It is from the negatively slanted article we get the reality check .

“We have over 11,000 candidates who took exams who did not receive any grades 1 to 3 in any of the subjects that they took,”  the official said.

He stated further that based on the calculations by the regional examination body, out of the possible population of students to write exams at the end of secondary school, just over 20 percent actually gets the opportunity to do so.

Cumberbatch added that if 20 percent of students get the opportunity to write the exam and 13 percent are not receiving acceptable grades, this is considered a major concern.    ( my added emphasis on any)

In plain language 80% of students who make it to fifth form cannot and will not be allowed to even sit a single CXC-CSEC subject exam.  In addition only 59% of those that are actually allowed to sit the exam, get acceptable grades (41% fail).  So if 60,000 students =20% then using ratio (20/80=1/4) the total number of potential students not eligible to take the exam is 180,000 (3 x 60,000).  Furthermore, of the 60,000 exam participants, 24,600 students who took 5 or more subjects failed to attain the standard of 5 minimum passes (5 is equivalent to NYC Regents exams graduation requirement). – 11,000 of whom did not pass even one subject [so 13,600 had a range of 1 – 4 subjects passed].

Using the data estimates, regional graduation rate for an entire cohort of current fifth formers is 35,400/240,000 = 0.15%, – less than one percent.  Remember only 20% of our school-children are even given the chance to officially graduate as per internationally accepted standards!!!  CAVEAT: The statistics released so far are vague and amorphous – we do not have it parsed by country (16) or by actual number of subjects passed per student and at what grade level (1/2/3).  [I have subsequently found an article which details the data for St Vincent and the Grenadines, Searchlight]   Even with these caveats we know enough to yell  Wake up people of the Caribbean your house is on fire and is now almost burnt to the ground.  We may have passed the tipping point.

A simple Google search provided similarly headlined articles in newspapers across the Caribbean.  In Trinidad & Tobago (Newsday – 19 comments; Guardian – 0 comments), Jamaica (Observer – 9 comments), St. Lucia (Newsday-34 comments), St Vincent and the Grenadines (IWN – 0 comments; Searchlight) .  If we want to judge the urgency with which issue are a priority by people in a particular society, based on media coverage and the number of views or comments posted, then we could probably conclude that this issue has received a “ho-hum” from all the national societies comprising the Caribbean region, and the peoples no longer care – mired in apathy – indifferent to the present reality and its consequences on the future productivity and vibrance of worker pool quality in their nation.

The Caribbean prides itself on its responsiveness to and provision of human development social justice criteria (education, health-care, pensions, employment, housing, utilities, etc.).   Caribbean nations also tend to copy the policies of its great neighbor to the north (America).  In America today, available jobs outstrip people looking for work.  Graduation rates are unimpressive and its apartheid education system perpetuates and expands the inequality in its society.  There is a mismatch of skills set in aggregate market demand and supply.  Could this be a foreshadowing of future reality in the Caribbean, especially as migration opportunities have dried up – driven by global nationalism restrictions.

Be reminded that the CXC-CSEC grading evaluation was changed in 1998 to broaden the tent of satisfactory standards to include grade 3 (formerly only grades 1 and 2 were considered as pass).  It also allowed for the incusion of SBA grades to supplement the written exam grade.  Now even this lowering of the original standard is not enough to obtain credible data showing achieving students demonstrating a grasp of the foundational skills needed for the twenty-first century and beyond’ workplace.

We are producing a smoldering, gathering mass of citizens who cannot fill available jobs.  We are also shrinking the economy so that the available jobs are either low-skilled service work or high skilled, salaried with benefits, positions.   Currently, in order to work at a low wage fast food restaurant such as KFC, in a huge swath of the Caribbean, one has to have five or more CXC-CSEC subjects which must include English and Math.  Hence, to extrapolate from the recently declared results,of the 240,000 students in the regional cohort less than one percent would even be considered for employment at a fast food restaurant in an entry level position.

So, after 6 years of primary school and five years of high school, 83% of our students have little or nothing to show or use as a foundation for building the rest of their lives.  This is a devastating blow for parents who have provided uniforms, books, transportation, food and shelter with expectations of nurturing future grown-ups who will be productive citizens and a comfort (for many, they are relied on as providers) in their old age.  This is a crippling crisis for society as the consequences for the economy become an accelerating downgrade to junk status (failed state) with its associated pathologies such as corruption, crime, blight, unemployment, welfare dependency, government subsidies and inadequate health-care.

This is a mortally wounding and overwhelming psychological blow for the students themselves who face a bare, bleak future of hopelessness and despair.   Almost an entire generation of potential producers, workers, entrepreneurs, innovators, scholars, policy-makers, and industry leaders are suppressed or exterminated.   The problem of a lifetime career is already raising its ugly head as of the 83%, only those fortunate enough to have a relative or friend with a  small business such as a mechanic shop, barber shop or roadside stall, to apprentice in, or get a job as a daily handy-man, household helper or construction worker will join the ranks of the employed.

Two years ago I wrote about the great strides Caribbean countries, as a whole, had made, in ensuring succeeding generations of a newly freed and now independent people, had access to education.  This education was intended to adequately prepare them to adapt and succeed in a challenging, technologically integrated, world where globalized competition compels the necessity for quality education.  (read article here)  Governments have not been stingy in providing funds to underwrite education initiatives.  Yet student outcomes are dismal, failing to meet projected expectations.  We can justify the most recent CXC-CSEC results by blaming the natural disasters that devastated some countries, the lack of teachers in the system, the change in CXC online exam requirements, or the usual fallback of our past colonial system

As noted by D. Jules (former registrar and chief executive officer of CXC and current director general of OECS), past reforms have not brought the results expected, as education achievement for a majority of students is still floundering at unsatisfactory and unacceptable levels.  The personnel responsible for getting it right (policy-makers, administrators, direct and indirect service providers {e.g. teachers, principals, counselors, social workers, assessment providers, teacher training programs}, as well as parents who create the outside earning framework, are consistently missing the success mark.  New thinking as input into the massive and comprehensive brainstorming that must take place is welcome.  However, it is more important to begin creating and implementing experimental incubators as crucibles judged/evaluated by the sole criteria of improved student outcomes.

 

Rebuilding our society into one which maximizes citizenry’ educational capacity is going to take patience, openness, ruthless evaluation and decision-making – where success is the only guarantee for continuity.  This education building will not take a year but decades.  Turning around the education system  (aka the Titanic) will take dogged determination.  It will take myopic goal attainment.  While conformity should not stifle creativity, the blue print should be consulted at every step of this construction, to make critical decisions that ensure effective problem solving.  CARICOM seems to be stuck in the design phase and appears incapable of jumping to implementation.  Stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Use each nation as models to champion what has been proven to work

The formal education industry can be perceived as the mother’s milk of society.  A quality education provides the antibiotics needed, from one’s earliest years,to immunize against the disease of ignorance.  Education inculcates life sustaining behaviors.  It shelters and protects the vulnerable from predators, provides nutritious food to nurture and promote development and provides the knowledge skills that cloth the mind.  Formal educators perform a parental role in society but they are not parents and cannot be coerced or shame/blamed into that role.

Yes it is true that teachers have the most direct educational influences on a student’s mind.  However, the influence of a teacher fluctuates depending on the structure of a parental home.  In some cases teachers perform the role their job description prescribes – teaching formal academic knowledge and skills.  For a huge proportion however, teaching has evolved into being much more than a developer of IQ (intelligence quotient) but also a mentor of EQ (emotional quotient) development.  .

Never forget that like parents, educators come in all shapes, sizes, capabilities, and complexities.  They are prone to mistakes, inspirational, insightful, moral or immoral.  They can have emotional quirks, ideological fanaticism, fortitude or fecklessness.  They can be passionate, dispassionate, cruel or kind, dumb or smart, focused or scattered, myopic or visionary, lazy or industrious, risk takers or risk averse, a resister of change or a pioneer on the frontiers of possibilities.  Like parents, educators should encourage children to be who they want to be, to maximize their potential even as they give them the tools that catalyse independence in choices and deeds.

Dear parents and guardians, this  is a call to arms.  You are in a unique position where if you raise your voices in a sustained chorus, the powers that be will be forced to listen.  If they refuse to listen then just throw the bums out (via fair elections).  Policy-makers you are positioned to leave an indelible mark on history and make a legacy that demonstrates your commitment to the progress of your nation.  You need to find the right blocks to cement a culture and climate of success in the education of succeeding cohorts.  Students are also obligated to join in and help themselves by consciously deciding to do the right thing and embrace opportunities that enrich their knowledge base.

It takes a village to raise a child but the villagers must be vigilant, have high expectations and be prepared as role models for a safe and prosperous community.  Educators are not just those found in schools, education departments, or associated academic institutions.  Educators are a conglomerate of disparate influencers.  They are the neighbors, the business people, the church members, the civil service workers, the diverse community members.  Children learn from and are a product of their environment .  The environment is created by the component people in it.  The quality of the children who become adult citizens are a product of the education they attained.

 

The next article I will focus on the societal consequences of a subpar education and solutions that may be used in experimental incubators (nations) – from primary through to tertiary.

Yvonne Reynolds, MPA, MSC, ABD

yvonnereynolds@msn.com