EDITORIAL: Are our children ready for 11-Plus?
Barbadian children are coping with an unprecedented educational crisis due to COVID-19.
The Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination (BSSEE) or Common Entrance Exam will be held on June 22, 2021, but will this be adequate time to prepare? The year 2020 was a time of lockdown and confusion. Some primary school children lost many hours due to limited in-person learning. The challenge of how to conduct classes with COVID-19 continues to disrupt teaching schedules and BSSEE preparation. But there is a bigger elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.
Caribbean educators are forced to use more technology since the pandemic. This has exposed the lack of or limited technological infrastructure also known as the digital divide. The Common Entrance exam was implemented during a time of limited technological use but this has changed. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to thrust the regional education system towards electronic devices, and even now it is seen as a hindrance rather than a tool of empowerment and advancement.
Many primary school students cannot access tablets, computers, or laptops and stable Internet service. This is not only a national issue but a regional one. According to UNICEF, in the Caribbean and Latin America, 49 per cent or 74 million school-age children between 3-17 years are unconnected at home. Barbados, by far has the highest Internet usage (80 percent) in the region. But this does not equate to universal access to technology.
In November 2020, Dr. Dillon Alleyne, Director of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) who spoke virtually at the 2020 Caribbean Child Research Conference highlighted this issue. A strong proponent of hybrid learning inclusive of Information Communications Technology (ICT), he believes in the removal of the Common Entrance and regular testing over a child’s academic career.
Since 1959, the Barbados school system introduced the Common Entrance and it was plagued with a high failure rate. The eleven-plus has not improved with time. In the document, “2015-2016 Statistics on Education in Barbados at a Glance", the English grades in Common Entrance were satisfactory but scoring on Mathematics and essay were less satisfactory. While the examination awards top achievers who can select the best and high performing schools, children with learning disabilities and developmental delays are left behind. St. Lucia has acknowledged the shortcomings of the Common Entrance and in 2020 stated it will implement the Caribbean Examinations Council’s Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA).
Two BSSEE town halls were scheduled this week on January 6 and January 9. But with the new national protocols and curfew since the surge of COVID-19 cases, this has all changed.
This year, Barbadian children are told to ignore the constant disruption, stress, anxiety of operating during a viral outbreak. They are expected to adapt to new technologies and a new method of learning with no warning or introduction.
This “throw-them-in-the-water-and-swim” approach is not only psychologically damaging to future generations but will have social and economical ramifications beyond their lives.
In 2019, Prime Minister Mia Mottley spoke about the abolition of BSSEE. By March 2020, Education Minister, Santia Bradshaw told the local media no changes to the examination will be made until consultations are completed. For now, the exam stays. But Barbados must find a process that allows primary students to learn in a COVID-19 free atmosphere, with adequate virtual workspaces and reliable broadband, without distractions from the home and environmental hazards. This is the only way our children will survive the new normal.