THE decision by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) to revoke the grades of the entire sixth form cohort at Jamaica College who sat the 2013 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) in physics is both embarrassing and disturbing and might cause irreparable damage to the Jamaican education system. This most discomforting episode speaks to the glaring lapses within the education system and the urgent need for quality assurance measures to be instituted across all levels of the system.
At the same time, the Caribbean Examination Council's judgement should be commended and indeed should be viewed as an opportunity for all stakeholders within the education system to develop standards and means to safeguard the integrity of our examinations, especially as we move forward in an era transparency and accountability.
Quality assurance is the systematic review of educational programmes to ensure that acceptable standards of education, scholarship and infrastructure are being maintained.
However, a significant part of our problem is the fact that we do not have a sufficient history of quality assurance practices in this country, especially as it compares to other societies and cultures.
However, all is not lost, we need to urgently work at creating and fostering a culture of quality assurance practices, along with educating our students about the perils of plagiarism, showing them how this negatively impacts not only the individual, but also an institution and even an entire country.
Our disadvantage stems from the fact that the society already has a tendency to downplay the importance of intellectual property rights as a serious issue. For some reason we do not value creative work such as poetry, music and choreography as work. This adds to the difficulty we now face for us to truly see plagiarism as a way of cheating. We need to change that perception and culture and the change must begin now. Maybe this is an ideal opportunity for the Ministry of Education to incorporate the issue of plagiarism into the social studies curriculum for grades 7 to 9.
We must admit, too, and sadly so, that too many individuals of questionable backgrounds are in the teaching profession from the level of principal to the classroom teacher. As a result of this fact we should not be alarmed if more instances of plagiarism and other forms of cheating and irregularities are not discovered throughout our institutions of learning.
We should thank the Caribbean Examination Council's swift and decisive move as it relates to bringing an end to this disgraceful situation which has wider implications for even how we are viewed by our Caribbean neighbours and the world at large as our education system products ingress these markets.
By virtue of being a principal one automatically assumes the role of chief executive officer. To simply claim lack of knowledge regarding what is happening in one's school is totally unacceptable, and principals must be made to understand this. The buck truly stops with them.
We must, however, ask ourselves a number of questions in light of this revelation:
How can we be sure this grave and unethical offence is not occurring elsewhere?
What is the role of the Ministry of Education regarding issues of quality assurance for our regional and national examinations?
Let us not fool ourselves, when we operate in an unethical manner there are always serious implications for those directly and indirectly impacted by our selfish and self-serving actions. This sculled episode should be used as a learning tool and a wake up for all schools to put their house in order and abide by guidelines and rules regarding School Based Assessment (SBA) and the sitting of examinations. Surely we must take every step imaginable to safeguard the integrity and quality of our examinations.
I am reminded that a few years ago the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) went through an embarrassing affair after it was discovered that students at a particular school had seen the examination paper before the scheduled date for the sitting of the exam.
There is a saying that says, "tek sleep and mark death." Perception is sometimes more than reality. All the stakeholders involved; the schools, parents, teachers, students, school boards, the Ministry of Education should come together so as to prevent a repeat of this most distressing saga.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. email@example.com