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Forward to the past

BY THE LAIRD

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

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In the Friday, August 17, 2018 edition of The Gleaner, the following was reported on a speech given by the Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid:

“Education Minister Ruel Reid has made it clear that he would be making a strident push to shake up the educational system that he believes is over reliant on the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) from the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), and which is preventing young people from attaining their full potential.

“Reid announced yesterday that the National School Leaving Certificate would be introduced in the upcoming academic year and would replace the CSEC as the minimum standard required for entry-level jobs.

“ 'We are not at all discounting; we are not reducing standards; its clarification, because if you look at the design of the system, the structure is just wrong,' Reid disclosed yesterday. He was speaking at the Mona Visitor's Lodge in St Andrew where a summary of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination, CSEC and City and Guild Results were released.”

Jamaica has seen an overall improvement in the performance of students sitting the CSEC exams, but amid concerns of a bleak future for many students who fail the exam year after year.

Reid insisted that the CSEC, going forward, cannot be the sole qualification standard if the country intended to maximise its human resource potential.

“You want a flexible, agile education system! There was a time when we used it (CSEC) to screen out the majority because we only had two per cent access to higher education,” reasoned Reid. “So, we have to deconstruct and reconstruct the education system in that regard,” he added, making the case for the need for a diversified set of standards.”

We had this before. It did not work. As a lad going to a traditional high school in the 1970s I knew of something called the Jamaica Schools' Certificate (JSC). The JSC was a set of exams that mimicked the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O Level) examinations administered by the University of Cambridge in England. The GCE O levels were set and marked in England. We in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and throughout the English-speaking Caribbean all sat the same exams, as did students in England.

These were in the neo-colonial days before the emancipation of exams which resulted in the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) being set up to set and mark indigenous Caribbean-wide examinations for all Grade 11 ( Fifth Form) students. The cohort of students who sat GCE O Levels was quite small. It was limited mainly to those in the traditional high schools such as Munro, Wolmer's, etc. Although there was free secondary education for all, the apartheid system of secondary education in Jamaica was then at its zenith. This resulted in those who were not privileged to be in one of the few traditional high schools sitting the JSC.

The JSC exams were, for those of us in traditional high schools, ridiculously easy. Even our internal mock exams were harder. Fellows at school with me did it for sport. Some ending up with 13 or 14 subjects all with an A. Passes in the JSC could not and did not matriculate the holder to tertiary education.

It could not get you a “proper” job in a commercial bank, a business house or in the civil service. It could not get you into sixth form at a traditional high school. In short, it was useless and meaningless.

As with most things in life, the issue is one of confidence. If business and academia have no confidence in the “new” National School Leaving Certificate (NSLC), then it is worthless. Confidence cannot be imposed on the market by the Ministry of Education. The market knows that the top percentage of students will continue to go to the “traditional” high schools and will continue to do CSEC & CAPE. The market will continue to demand these forms of certification for work or study.

The new NSLC will be a fig leaf for the rest. Nothing more, nothing less.

— Reprinted from the online publication Public Opinion

publicopinion.news.

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