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Low grade

Education system not up to mark - IDB spokeswoman

Barbados’ education system has come for severe criticism from a senior official of the Inter American Development  Bank (IDB), who has warned that even though the island is considered a leader in Latin America and the Caribbean, its overall level of learning is still way below par.

Dr Mariana Alfonso, a Senior Education Specialist at the IDB, bases her assessment on studies done between 1999 and 2012, which she said uncovered a number of worrying results.

For one, the research shows that many school leavers cannot even meet the basic requirement of four Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) passes for entry into the public service.

“Of the students who actually take that exam, 50 per cent obtain far more CSEC passes, but only after multiple sittings,” Alphonso pointed out.

In fact, she said “only 6.1 per cent of the students in Barbados get the four passes in the first sitting of the exam”.

“This is an issue because it limits the possibilities these kids have when they enter the labour force, not having so many passes,” the IDB official said in an address to this week’s Fifth International Conference on Higher Education.

The research also showed that nearly a quarter or “23 per cent of all students in Barbados don’t get the certificate because they don’t complete [or] do that final examination”.

“They’ve been through the system, but they don’t have that certificate that will allow them to go into the workforce,” Alphonso stressed.

She also raised concern that the Caribbean and Latin America was the region with the largest learning gaps, while pointing out that children from wealthy families were learning a lot more than those from lower socio-economic families.

This, she said, was also reflected in the performances of students in the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE), otherwise referred to as the Common Entrance exam.

She also drew a link between the Common Entrance and Caribbean Examination Council results, pointing out that 12 of Barbados’ secondary schools which were continuously showing weak CXC performances received the lower scoring students in the SSEE.

“So you have a segregated system by assigning the students who have higher test scores to the better performing schools.

“It is an assignment mechanism that maintains inequality, and maintains that performance gap that is observed at the entrance in the [secondary] system,” Alfonso argued.

She said while the Ministry of Education was currently seeking grants and other assistance for the 12 underperforming schools, “there is a lot of work to be done here”.

The IDB official went on to show that the problem was not only one of poor education, but also a lack of preparation for entry into the workforce.

“We’re seeing that students are not necessarily well prepared to support an economy that is based on knowledge and innovation, because most of the [CXC] passes are not done on, for example in science and technology. There is still a large share of students who are doing, for example, electronic document preparation, office administration,” she said.

Alfonso, who has a PhD in Education, also said, based on a 2012 survey, Barbadian employers shared the same complaint as their Latin American counterparts that school leavers lacked necessary soft skills – “the ability to work with other people, the ability to lead, to think critically, to respect authority, to be punctual to work, to be on time for a meeting”.

She also highlighted the issue of gender in education, saying exam subject choices were still largely influenced by traditional gender concepts with women tending to focus more in areas of office administration, electric document processing.

“It is like there is still a lot of choices going on in schools that perpetrate gender roles,” Alfonso said, adding that “more could be done to have more women work on science and technology”.

The IDB official also touched on the issue of spending on education, while noting that this rose from 4.2 per cent of GDP to 5.8 per cent in 2012, which she said was above the average for some rich, developed countries which make up the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Such spending, she said, was also above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, despite this financial effort, the IDB researcher said per person spending was still low when compared to other zones with high education performers.

“Not only student performance is low, but also students are not learning what is needed for them to be productive members of society in the 21st century,” she said, while stressing that though Barbados leads the region in terms of the performance in CSEC, learning was still low.

“Even though in some cases it has improved recently, 61 per cent of students in Barbados achieve pass grades in Mathematics, and in the case of Trinidad, that is 51 per cent, so we definitely have a problem with education quality.” 

15 Responses to Low grade

  1. Hal Austin October 19, 2016 at 3:55 am

    This has been the case for most of our independence. For years we have been fooling ourselves that we had the best educational system in the English-speaking Caribbean. We used to.
    We now fool ourselves that a degree from an under-performing university – the worst performing of the UWI campuses – somehow makes us world class.
    I repeat what I have said on a number of occasions in my Notes From a Native Son – spend more of our GDP on education (aim for 12 per cent of GDP), start at the bottom from nursery age educating toddlers bilingually with a focus on STEM; at the age of 14 separate up kids in to academic, technical, arts and sports, administrative and business and entrepreneurship – with a facility for children to move across specialisms.
    With the school leaving age at 18, they will have four years of specialist training, backed with a reformed system of national scholarships.
    With these reforms, within just over a decade (aged five to 18) children in Barbados will be truly world class.
    Higher education can then be more focused, on those specialisms and not on over-producing inferior lawyers and people with PhDs in cultural studies.
    Start by publishing the CXC results for secondary schools. Why is this a secret? The ministry of education receives a full breakdown of exam results from the CXC, but declines to publish them. In the 1950s and early 60s they used to.

  2. Tony Webster October 19, 2016 at 5:18 am

    We WERE a leader amonst our Caribbean siblings- and even further afield. Resting one one’s laurels – or past glories- is quite removed from the current global, competitive realities, and I thank the lady (who formally speaks for a very gracious lender of many recent F/X loans to this country) for her forthright warning.

    May God grant us polititical leaders, supported by industrious , clear-thinking citizens, who all might wake up from a Rip-Van Winkle slumber, and lead us our of this Rocky Gully, (sorry, several Rocky Gullies). Yes, Lord, give us a team of Red, or Yellow, or even utramarine, whatever, just one who shall grant our children any semblance of a sustainable, worthwhile future. Amen.

  3. Cherylann Bourne-Hayes
    Cherylann Bourne-Hayes October 19, 2016 at 5:31 am

    She is correct.

  4. lester October 19, 2016 at 5:47 am

    she speaketh the truth

  5. seagul October 19, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Too many children are captivated by technology and as a result have failed to develop critical language skills.
    In today’s society many children are raised by the television and video games. In my experience as a teacher, they lack imagination; simple writing tasks become chores because their vocabulary is extremely limited. Communication skills in our children are lacking; therefore we must encourage them to read. We must urged the parents to encourage their children to develop a love for reading.

  6. Corey Worrell October 19, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I speak more on this at a later time but what she has shared is nothing new to the ears or eyes of Bajan’s. Many Barbadians professionals have communicated this before. Despite my young at, I touched on this same thing in more than one of my articles. May be we will accept the findings now because it came from someone representing an international organization.

    What is more interesting is she was able to obtain statistics that may be challenge for the average Barbadian to obtain – which shouldn’t be the case.

    Since we tax payers find the education sector, we have a right to receive yearly reports on the performances of each school, especially secondary schools. I will continue to advocate to publish the results of school’s performance.

    When a secondary school in Barbados gets 1 single CXC pass in mathematics, another gets 4 and another enters 133 to sit the exam and only 16 pass (3 grade twos, 13 grade threes) – we know we have a serious problem. We know we have a problem when in 2012 only 33%of the entire Caribbean passed CXC mathematics.

    The entire education system is in need of a shake up but the question is – which government has the political will to do it

    • Leroy October 19, 2016 at 8:56 am

      The problem starts with indiscipline in the homes that is taken into the schools. The children are not taught the basics of respect, listening and following instructions. Without these basic things it is impossible to teach and learn. Get back to the basics.

      • Ezra Parris October 19, 2016 at 11:22 am

        Exactly, the problem we are having in Barbados and the Caribbean is that too many want to live simply to suit themselves (maybe like the USA). Problem is that we are not at the stage where we can play loose (you can’t jam on the bass guitar until you have managed the fundamentals, and even then there is a discipline to be observed). So there is a generation of parents that does not teach self-discipline to the generation they are raising or stir up in them a desire to contribute positively to our society. There is a generation of teachers that does not see teaching as a vocation or that in teaching they are contributing to nation building. Every man is for himself and gives little thought for the collective. Well, the collective falls apart. West Indies cricket was a sign — indiscipline would be our downfall.

  7. Harry October 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

    One only has to read the comments on this and other sites to realize that an overwhelming percentage of the people who write cannot write proper English. Before I retired I worked with 2 UWI graduates, highly qualified great people but they could not write proper English to save their lives, one of my biggest peeves was that the past tense “ed” didn’t exist. Listen to the TV & Radio announcers and cringe.

  8. islandgal October 19, 2016 at 8:28 am

    This is so true. Poor quality of teachers = poor quality students. Students are stifled and not encouraged to excel because of lack of skilled teachers. Many teachers are only there to collect a salary. Regurgitation is the method of teaching, children will never become critical thinkers with this type of teaching. Too many ill equipped teachers.

  9. Alex Alleyne October 19, 2016 at 8:40 am

    Blame it on UNICEF

  10. Michael Clarke October 19, 2016 at 11:04 am

    There is a lot in what was said but not all of it from a culturally relevant and respectful perspective. Education systems operate based on a philosophy and perhaps that is where the discussion should start, with a culturally relevant philosophy.
    What philosophy drives the Barbadian education system?
    Are we implementing that philosophy with fidelity?
    Is there a discrepancy between the target results, based on our philosophy, and the actual results?
    If there is a discrepancy what are its root causes and how might it best be addressed?

  11. Bobo October 19, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Ref to Hal Austin well written comment—-until– with school leaving age should be 16–three years apprentice with diploma–or UNI– work included speaking two fluent language–”there and then” we have a world class system.

    Britain and Caribbean regions 17th century education development has nothing to offer the 21st century children, they are bored and sexual appetite is the only answer.

  12. jrsmith October 19, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    We were always so sure little Barbados have this high standard of education, but we have been educated to be a them and us society which have brought this class system we are stung by and stuck with and is gradually destroying our local societies .

    What is so open to see how many of our so call educators with they massive CVs , is never willing or able to pool the education which is in abundance to publicly offer advice to the unproductive government in power at the present time , but its easy to detect these people talk to us as though they are teaching us to count 1 to 10 when we already counting to 100….

    We in the Caribbean region had a head start to lots of other countries, before and since the so call independences, we were left stable political governance by Westminster, most now is total disasters….
    We need to be educated but think what is education for as blacks and understand its not the same as for whites and others races , whites others have they businesses which stay in the family decade after decade , in many cases the young families is groomed by the parents any chance new business is help by families ..
    For blacks god always tell them to start a church and all they do teach our young children to read the bible and confuse the young people , then we have the politicians who cannot explain to our young people why things is so bad …..


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