UNICEF calls on CXC, Caribbean education ministers to adjust CAPE, CSEC exams due to COVID-19

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 May 2021, 7:17 by Denis Chabrol

The United Nations children’s agency  (UNICEF)  is urging the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) not to proceed with this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations in their current form.

Following is the full text of a statement issued by the UNICEF representatives including Nicolas Pron, Representative UNICEF Office for Guyana.

UNICEF is concerned over the decision of the Caribbean Examinations  Council (CXC) to maintain the upcoming Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC)  and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) for students as currently  designed.

UNICEF is calling on CXC and the Ministers of Education to make adjustments to  the content and administration of these exams, in line with recommendations provided by the  Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) to ensure that the region’s school students are not further  disadvantaged. 

We do recognize the efforts already made by the CXC in reducing certain requirements for  these examinations and making concessions such as (i) providing the topics for the long  answer paper (Paper 2) five weeks prior to the commencement of the exams, (ii) reducing  requirements for the SBAs and extending submission dates for some subjects and (iii)  facilitating deferments to 2022 if students meet specific criteria, (iv) the currently discussed further postponement of the examination date. However, there are still a number of issues  which require more substantial changes and flexibility. For example, no change has been  made on the multiple-choice paper (Paper 1) which will still cover the entire syllabus, and  no clear structure was shared as to how those students who meet deferral requirements and  choose to defer will be supported to sit the exams at a later date in 2022.  

As we are aware, the current pandemic context has further exacerbated the gaps in  preparedness amongst the most disadvantaged students. This year, there is a higher risk of  those students in vulnerable conditions never sitting the exams. This could seriously affect  not only their further education at higher secondary or tertiary levels, but their future. As  these high stakes exams are scheduled to proceed amidst a significant disruption to schooling  at varying degrees across the Caribbean since early 2020, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic 

and continued partial or full school closures, the heightened risk of being further left behind,  in particular students from lower income households, who continue to experience major  challenges in accessing online learning is an important consideration. In addition, natural  disasters such as the recent eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in St- Vincent have had an  additional negative impact on the learning of thousands of students. 

Teachers, parents and students themselves repeatedly expressed their worries about the low  levels of preparedness, as the pandemic and the related impact on education prevented  students from attaining learning outcomes as desired. If the exams were to be implemented  as decided, our main concern is the low level of preparedness (academically and  psychologically) of many of the thousands of 16–18-year-old students across the region to sit  the exams.[1] In this context, requiring students to sit an examination that includes  components that cover an entire two-year course of study would risks being ineffective.  

Given these circumstances, UNICEF is calling for an equitable approach to these critical  examinations, which takes into account the unequal access to learning due to the digital  divide, the reduced curriculum coverage, and the high psycho-emotional stress, among other  consequences of the prolonged school closure due to the pandemic. 

We therefore wish to recommend that the proposals made by the Caribbean Union of Teachers  (CUT) on how the CSEC and CAPE exams could be adapted to the specific needs and capacities  of the students should be thoroughly considered by the CXC.  

In this view, UNICEF is kindly calling on the Ministers of Education of the CARICOM  countries to request CXC to adjust the CSEC and CAPE exams 2021, and to further  simplify the content and the methodology of the exam across all subjects and adapt  the timeline to the challenges currently faced by the students to ensure equitable  accessibility and participation for every student. This includes, as per the CUT  recommendations, that i.) Paper 1 should only test rationalized topics that are tested in Paper  2 and not the entire syllabi as the said syllabi would not have been completed; ii) for Paper  2, remove all hurdles including compulsory questions and ensure that no one question item  should test two or more content areas; and iii) extend the start of the examination by three  weeks and release the rationalized board topics immediately to students and teachers in order  to facilitate effective preparation.  

In order to provide extra support to students in times of COVID-19, UNICEF wishes to call  on the Ministers of the CARICOM countries to: 

• Expand and intensify the provision of mental health and psycho-social  support for children as they prepare for the exams. Children who are  participating in exams in 2021, regardless of the form the exam takes, should be  provided with support to ensure they are mentally prepared and have the tools to  deal with the added stress of being examined at this time.  

• Confirm placement in schools for children who defer sitting exit exams (school completion) to next year. Governments should guarantee that all children  who decide to defer the sitting of exams to 2022 will automatically continue to be  registered at their current schools. 

• Offset any financial costs for deferral to 2022. Where a student defers his/her  exams to 2022, provisions should be made to ensure financial costs related to  schooling are minimized. Services for children who benefited from social protection  programmes for which their eligibility is based on age or school attendance, which  would have ended in 2021, should be continued. 

• Clarify how the prevalence of COVID-19 cases will be taken into  consideration (given the variation among the countries and within larger countries  such as Jamaica and Guyana). 

These are unprecedented times and will collectively require us to adapt and recreate normalcy  and routine, for the many lives disrupted. A moment like this calls  for innovative approaches, to stem the effects of COVID-19 on generations to come. UNICEF  stands committed to support ongoing efforts whilst making the call for equity and inclusivity,  especially for those children and young people, who are now at heightened risk of being left  behind.  

We also stand ready to support and accompany the Ministries of Education in the respective  Caribbean countries to provide technical support in further developing and implementing the  proposed changes.