BY CONRAD HAMILTON Sunday Observer senior reporter email@example.com
THE leadership of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is fuming in the wake of calls for an enquiry into whether it is to be blamed for the significant decline in pass rates for English Language and Mathematics among students throughout the Caribbean in May this year.
Registrar at the CXC, Dr Didacus Jules, is not amused by what he has described as the blame game that is currently driving the public debate about the falling exam grades.
Dr Jules responded angrily in an interview with the Jamaica Observer Friday when asked to comment on the claims made by Jamaica College principal Ruel Reid that the CXC itself should be probed to ascertain its role in the poor showing among students across the region.
Reid last week insisted that Caribbean governments should demand an explanation from CXC, as the examination body was not above scrutiny.
Among other things, Reid is questioning whether CXC made changes to its marking schemes in response to criticisms that its examinations had got easier over recent years.
Following Reid's call, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites disclosed that he had, in fact, requested an explanation from CXC.
Technocrats inside the education ministry have also sided with Reid, albeit off the record.
The minister's pronouncement came even as local educators showed obvious alarm at the results, particularly against the background of gains that had been recorded in 2010 and 2011.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Education, 46.2 per cent of the students passed English Language, a significant drop when compared with a pass rate of 63.9 per cent last year, and 64.9 per cent in 2010.
In Mathematics, 31.7 per cent of students attained passes, a decrease from 33.2 per cent last year, and 39.5 per cent in 2010.
Speaking with the Sunday Observer on Friday, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools Sharon Reid said the principals were also very concerned and would meet shortly to address the situation.
"As a body, we will be communicating to see what strategies we can come up with, but we are also looking forward to hearing from the CXC in terms of what they have been seeing too," she said.
Reid, who is principal of St Andrew High School for Girls, said the number of English passes at her school had not been affected but the quality of passes had fallen.
"In my school, whereas our pass rate has remained stable, we have seen grade ones become twos and twos become threes. We have 17 per cent fewer grade ones," she said.
The dismal Mathematics and English Language passes will also take prominence on the agenda of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) annual conference scheduled for Montego Bay between tomorrow and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials of CXC are expected to provide more answers when they travel to Jamaica this week to meet with Thwaites on the vexed issue.
Dr Jules is unlikely to be in attendance, however, and leapt to his organisation's defence against Reid's critique.
"Mr Reid should know better," Dr Jules fumed, emphasising that Reid, once an advisor to former Education Minister Andrew Holness and ex-chairman of the National Council on Education, has a working knowledge of CXC's operations.
He declared that the body has very strong systems governing the administration and marking of its examinations, and pointed to the integrity of the CXC's final awards committee, which includes senior representatives of education ministries throughout the Caribbean.
Dr Jules declared that he intended to issue a written response to the wave of criticisms, including the accusations being made against the examination body by Reid.
The CXC registrar made reference to some of the accusations while speaking in Guyana at last week's official presentation of the Caribbean Secondary Examinations Certificate (CSEC) results for this academic year and called for level heads and renewed focus on the challenges.
"Education is under great strain and it does not need people to stand on the outside and pontificate, we need workers in the vineyard, people who are prepared to put their shoulders behind the wheel," Dr Jules declared.
According to an article published by the Demerara Waves in Guyana, he told the gathering that now is a time for less lamentation and more decisive action.
"Blaming ministers, teachers or any relevant person is not going to change that empirical reality one iota," he declared.
Dr Jules's call for something to be done to save the region's secondary education systems has been endorsed by Guyana's Education Minister Priya Manickchand, who used the forum to call on Caribbean countries to deal "frontally" with the poor grades recorded in Mathematics and English A.
According to her, the region must accept that it has been failing at Mathematics and English throughout its history. She added that regional governments must not shy away from the results in order to deny the various opposition parties ammunition.
"The education of our boys and girls should never be politicised. Bad results must be owned by all; good results and the efforts to get there promoted, owned and celebrated by all," Manickchand said.
Meanwhile, in providing an overview of the CSEC results, senior assistant registrar at CXC Dr Gordon Harewood explained that students' ability to express themselves appeared to have been a major problem for those who sat the English Language paper this year.
"Students have to read a lot more. You can't spend every evening on Facebook chatting, you've got to pick up a book or an e-book," Harewood said.
Regarding the performance on the Mathematics papers, Dr Harewood stated there was much evidence of unfamiliarity with basic lower secondary level concepts.
"What was disturbing was that some of the concepts really should have been mastered at the lower secondary level... very simple Algebra, too many students were at a loss on that question, on [the one about] perimeters also," Harewood explained.