More in the mortar

The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), for at least two years now, has been trying to encourage Barbadians to have a national discussion about the School-Based Assessment (SBA) component of the Caribbean Examinations Council’s (CXC) examinations.

The usual partisan political context of our national discourses, along with the related oversimplified naming and blaming in which we engage, has meant largely that we have squandered the opportunity to have this discussion. The result is that an already overburdened and fragile industrial relations climate in Barbados has suffered yet another blow.

More widely, though, to my mind, we have missed yet another critical juncture to cease having related national discussions in isolation of each other and really engage in synthesized forward planning that will get Barbados back on track. The concerns which teachers have about SBAs were over simplified to a matter of payment.

It is much more than that. We missed the opportunity to have a national discussion about what the future workforce of Barbados would need to have to be deemed suitable for 21st century employment and what that looked like at the practical level. Now we have the whiffs of murmur about the Public Service (Qualifications) Act, 2016 (PSQA) and we still are not seeing the connections.

It is not a secret that a significant number of Barbadian children still leave school without attaining either a school leaving qualification or CXC subjects. Many such persons tend to go back to school after seeking employment to fill in their qualification gaps. With each revision of the PSQA and the closure of gaps for unskilled labour in the Public Service, the legitimate question can be asked what will become of an independent entrant’s ability to pass CXCs after their school years.

I was at my son’s option meeting last week where a teacher of science advised students that they were better to concentrate on subjects such as chemistry and physics during their school life because the SBA components were critical to attaining the pass. She noted that it was better to do those subjects during school life even if others had to be returned to after school.

The reality is, though, that both English and Mathematics at CXC will now be carrying SBA components. So, with a very broken and dysfunctional school system, it seems that woe is the Barbadian who leaves school without CXC subjects. Nobody is discussing how the introduction of SBAs across the board will affect continuous education.

Nobody has said how it affects us catering to that large segment of our population who seek qualification after secondary school. These people have traditionally sat as private candidates and there are no teachers to correct SBAs. I have also heard less about the new PSQA and how it intends to facilitate credit rating equivalents across traditional academic requirements and the vocational platforms that we are trying to encourage.

The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) which the Barbados Accreditation Council (BAC) was facilitating the development of, is to encourage seamless exit and re-entry into education as well as to rate experience in a way that it can be counted for qualification merit using the vocational platform as a tool.

This is obviously a recommendation sitting in some expensive consultancy report because it has not been translated into the 2016 edition of the PSQA.

Take for example the post of maintenance officer. The requirement to hold the post in the new PSQA is City and Guilds certification. There is no mention of NQF or CVQ equivalency.

For the post of administrative officer II, ‘a degree’ is the stated requirement.  Based on the work of an administrative officer II, there is no reason, in my mind, why a person who entered the Service at entry level, say as a clerical officer or messenger and over years completed a series of short courses in administration and related NVQs or CVQs, should be barred from climbing to administrative officer.

The new PSQA still, unfortunately, premiums social science qualifications over humanities training. For the post of research officer in the Public Service, a ‘social sciences’ degree is the stated stipulation. Why? A person who has reached master’s level in disciplines such as history and linguistics is just as capable of doing the duties of a research officer. The world is now paying attention to quantitative research as much as qualitative research and mixed methodology is quickly becoming a best practice.

We have missed a golden opportunity to begin to reshape and rationalize the Public Service by not taking the signal of the BSTU to discuss training and certification in a holistic way. Then there are the other concerns that beleaguer our Public Service due to political interference. This new PSQA is coming at a time where an election is due and Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Government’s side are trying to generate employment in an economy with non-existent life.

Obviously, these MPs will see the new PSQA for its ‘usefulness’ in displacement and replacement of workers. We are excelling at making the Public Service of Barbados demoralized and less fit for purpose. Another hindrance to the operationalization of the PSQA is the lack of a seamless fit with other pieces of legislation.

Take the case of workers of the Schools Meals Department. In the Budget tabled by the Minister of Finance on August 16, 2016, he indicated that all public servants with three continuous years of service would be appointed. The Minister went further to constitute a committee to manage the appointment process.

With the new PSQA, School Meals workers who are entitled to appointment based on this pronouncement of the Minister of Finance, will have the posts they are acting in advertised and they will have to compete with people who are coming with higher qualifications based on the application of the PSQA to newcomers and the regulations in the Recruitment and Employment Code.

What complicates the disparity more is that the declaration was made by the Minister of Finance but the Minister with responsibility for the Public Service is the Prime Minister. Up to now, there seems to be very little evidence that the two ministers are working in tandem on matters.

These were the real things we had to discuss but it was easier to malign the teachers and so we did.  So the question remains. What jobs will drive the revitalization of the Barbadian economy and what qualifications are needed to optimize those job functions?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: mhindslayne@gmail.com)

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