As a former British colony, our education system was patterned on that of the “mother country” from its inception, since the abolition of slavery. Changes in our system over the years tended to reflect those made in England; for instance, the introduction and gradual opening up of elite Queen’s College, patterned after their “Grammar Schools”, such as Harrow and Eton. The examinations that marked progress through these schools, which provided the credentials for work and further studies, all emanated from England; first Cambridge, and then London University.
In 1979, however, the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) was launched as a Caricom institution, to ensure that, our more, autochthonous curricula were graded from within, and also to be recognised by other universities and institutions of higher learning, especially in the developed countries. CXC was so successful that, in 1980, one year after CSEC was introduced, they received recognition for CSEC from the several overseas-based organisations: Joint Matriculation Board, UK; Cambridge University Examinations Syndicate and the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). At this time, there has been no foreign institution that has not given an equivalency accreditation to CXC’s imprimatur. The organisation remains one of the most successful Caricom institutions.
It is against this background that we must evaluate the storm of protest that has erupted over the CXC’s marking of the CSEC and CAPE examinations, which were delayed from May/June to July/August this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also some modifications to the structure of the exams, from the traditional Paper 1 (multiple choice questions), Paper 2 (essay-type questions) and School-Based Assessments (SBAs) which are completed prior to the exams, marked by teachers in the local schools and then forwarded to CXC. Each of these three components contribute fixed percentages for the student’s final score in each subject. This year, the Paper 2 was eliminated and the marks were “weighed” and redistributed.
After the grades were made available last Tuesday, students from across the Caribbean spontaneously took to social media to complain that there were a host of concerns, which ranged from not getting the grades expected, to being marked as not taking the exam, when in fact they had. Soon several administrators and Heads of Schools followed suit, including our Minister of Education, who strongly protested the situation. CXC noted that the institution had a review process in place, which should be resorted to by students who believe their marks should be different. These reviews would demand the customary US$30 per subject.
The Ministry issued a statement expressing “dissatisfaction” over the results, and Minister Manickchand was quoted as saying, “CXC has talked about applying for review…CXC cannot be flippant about these concerns from Guyana and other countries and just suggest we follow processes… why should they pay for something that is very well not their fault?” The following day, in a virtual Caribbean-wide interview, CXC Registrar Dr Wayne Wesley assured, “We have agreed and will be working with Ministers of Education to provide clarity in a fulsome way [including] detailed reports on concerns being raised.”
However, the rhetoric from several stakeholders had escalated, with the Head of the premier Queen’s College threatening to file an injunction to block the results until the review has been completed. She also threatened that Queen’s would withdraw from CXC. Students from that school, along with a number from Bishops’ and St Joseph, picketed the local CXC office. After the CXC Registrar reiterated that his institution would not be conducting any total review, but would work with Education Ministers’ formal reports and requests, our Education Ministry later announced they would be going this route.
It is our considered view that while there might be legitimate concerns over the CSEC and CAPE results, all stakeholders must not saw the (educational) branch on which the entire Caribbean sits. This undermines the bona fides of CXC, and would place a stain on all past and future graduates who were accredited by them.