By Dr Didacus Jules
The Caribbean Examinations Council has embarked on a process aimed at producing and implementing a strategic plan for the next three to five years. This initiative is predicated on the recognition that the organization has made phenomenal strides in the past and has successfully navigated the challenges of each era.
To appreciate the magnitude of the contribution made by CXC to the human resource development of the region, one must place its achievements in context. The establishment of the Council in 1972 was an educational expression of the spirit of independence and regionalism that the founding fathers of CARICOM embodied.
CXC was established with a broad mandate of being the regional structure for assessment, evaluation and educational standards. It started by replacing the UK-based O’Level examinations with the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC); followed 19 years later with the creation of the region’s own A’Level product – the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE). From these core products, CXC has also extended itself to respond to the needs of Participating Territories by supporting their national qualifying examinations for entry to secondary school and by producing more recently, a Caribbean Certificate for Secondary Level Competence(CCSLC).
The examination statistics from the inception of the various examinations speak to the arithmetic of expansion and the scope of service rendered – not only to the CARICOM member states but also to some of the Dutch- speaking territories.
Participation in CAPE has grown exponentially, assisted by its increasing recognition and acceptance by international universities and institutions of higher learning as a high quality qualification. CAPE has provided entry for some of its top performers in prestigious universities worldwide such as the Royal College of Surgeons, MIT, Cambridge, Yale, York and Warwick.
Performance in secondary school examinations has historically showed a major gender differential. The strategic plan’s initiatives on research will help shed light on this phenomenon and the plans for improving learning will contribute to better outcomes by males as well as females.
The overall goal of the new strategic direction is to contribute to the global intellectual competitiveness of the Caribbean by making CXC a world class brand, and by becoming the main quality assurance and certification body in the region.
The plan has three main components:
1. Staff Development & Engagement
2. Organizational Development
3. Products & Services
These are the 3 pillars that will constitute CXC: its human resources, its organizational capacity and its products & services.
The Staff Engagement component is predicated on the belief that the motivation and development of staff is a key to the creation of a learning organization which will ensure the on-going transformation of CXC to respond to the rapidly changing regional and international environment.
Two fundamental objectives of this pillar are the deepening of staff relations and adding value to the employment experience in CXC. The unions representing staff have been engaged in formal structures for promoting staff welfare and concerns, and management has made a commitment to having regular meetings to proactively address human resource issues in the organization.
Value is being added to the employment experience at CXC through special financing arrangements with First Caribbean International Bank that provide highly concessionary rates, and the formation of a CXC Buyers Club which will realize economies of scale on purchasing basic domestic items.
The organizational development component is essentially about building organizational capacity and repositioning the organization for a more responsive, efficient way of working.
A major element involves making CXC an IT-intelligent organization – that is embedding the use of information and computer technology to facilitate virtual networking, web-based interaction, IP communication and video conferencing, document management and archiving.
In order to achieve this objective, it is proposed that CXC seek collaboration with some experienced actors in the IT field such as Microsoft, and the World Bank Knowledge Institute.
The CXC Website will become the basis for a new way of working – enabling the use of the Internet for real time communication with stakeholders from students to teachers; facilitating the delivery of instructional support; and supporting a CXC Virtual Community of teachers and other resource persons across the entire region.
The redesign of the old website was the first step towards this new way of working. This reorganization will infuse new functionalities in the redesigned website.
It should have a simpler, cleaner and more practical interface with links to all key stakeholders such as national Ministries of Education. The home page should be continually refreshed using flash technology so that every visit will constitute a fresh experience.
The changes behind the interface will be the most vital ones as they will enable the website to offer e-commerce, e-learning, virtual workflows and networking, and multi-media streaming.
Among the concrete ideas for using the website is the plan to create a virtual Art Gallery in which digital photos of original artwork by Visual Arts students can be displayed and auctioned (as on e-Bay) with the proceeds going to the student and a commission to CXC! This initiative will demonstrate to students that CXC qualifications in Visual Arts mean something and can enable a career in art.
The other major aspect of the organizational development thrust is the building of strategic alliances at the regional and international levels. At the regional level, the objective of these alliances would be to create synergies for the deepening of functional collaboration and guaranteeing the quality of human resource development in the region.
An important priority is collaboration with other CARICOM institutions. CXC as the main quality assurance body in education for the region is a critical enabling element of the architecture of regional integration.
In this context, there is a special nexus between the University of the West Indies and CXC which must be strengthened so that the comparative strengths of each can impact the other.
UWI as the premiere public university in the region can work closely with CXC in strengthening staff capacity, providing joint services and consultancy to Ministries of Education and other entities, undertaking research on student performance and other areas relevant to strengthening CXC’s portfolio.
Our international collaboration is geared to best practice learning, benchmarking and technology transfer. The collaborating entities that have been identified are institutions which are internationally recognized for their accomplishments in the specific domain from which CXC desires to learn.
Regional collaboration is also governed by the principle of setting and achieving globally competitive educational standards. All of the potential partners within the region are stakeholders whose engagement is essential to widening the scope of CXC’s work and making a bigger contribution to human resource development in the region.
The third major component of the Strategic framework is the products and services offered by CXC. With respect to the existing portfolio, it is necessary to undertake a comprehensive review and to determine how we will consolidate and improve on these products and services
The planning process needs to also determine what new opportunities now exist for new products and services which can better meet the needs of the Caribbean. Part of this challenge is to look at opportunities in the global arena as well as the threats that confront us, to modernize CXC’s product and service portfolio. The all-staff retreats (in WZO and EZO) that have been conducted have concluded detailed SWOT analyses of the situation and have further detailed how threats can be changed to opportunities, and which weaknesses could be transformed to strengths.
In reviewing the relevance and acceptability of our existing examinations, we need to ensure that there is greater convergence between our syllabus in all subject areas (and most especially in the Technical and Vocational and Creative Arts) and the world of work and industry.
The School Based Assessment (SBAs) that are currently an integral element of the assessment of candidates must be maintained and improved since it provides a unique opportunity for the teachers, who ought to have a better and longer view of students’ performance, to have a say in the final grading. It was comforting to see that in the world’s leading conference on assessment – the 34th Annual Conference of the International Association for Educational Assessment – many countries and delegates addressed the need to build in SBAs into their examination models. CXC is already there and must do it better!
The review of our current products also offers us the opportunity to help shift the examination paradigm away from pure “academics” to seek to assess the whole person. CARICOM has articulated the notion of the Ideal Caribbean Person and it is the responsibility of the education systems of the region to help nurture and develop this new Caribbean person.
There are areas such as athletics, sports, creative and performing arts and music in which the Caribbean enjoys a global comparative advantage. A challenge for CXC in this era of globalization is how can we re-position our subject offerings so that we can provide pathways to global excellence in these arenas for our youth.
In revising our Physical Education syllabuses, can we work with leading sporting institutions and associations such as the Caribbean Olympic Associations, the GC Foster College in Jamaica and others to define and offer the entry level qualifications that can help ensure the emergence of many more Bolts?
Our responsibilities do not end with the production of syllabuses and the administration of examinations. They extend also to helping to raise educational standards while improving achievement. To address these dimensions, CXC will have to take a more structured approach to research and to the provision of instructional support to teachers.
Our research should help to empirically elucidate patterns of performance of Caribbean candidates, identify key areas of weakness and propose (in a more comprehensive manner than do the School Reports) what can be done to improve performance.
Many Ministries of Education have consistently called on CXC to assist with the training of teachers, especially at the higher secondary level. The incorporation of internet and computer technologies in the organization will mean that we can now undertake this in a more systematic manner. Support to teachers through virtual subject networks/associations, training through webinars, making possible downloads of instructional support material are the ways in which we can do this in the plan.
The growth of knowledge in this era is exponential and it has been postulated that this is now happening at such a rate that we must take account of the rate of obsolescence of knowledge. The implication for CXC is the need to periodically determine what new subjects are needed and at what levels. In recent times, we have seen typewriting give way to Electronic Document Preparation and Management.
What are the new and emergent industries that require new configurations of skills, knowledge and aptitude to gain competitive ascendency?
Because this new era of globalization is characterized by such intensive competition, the Caribbean needs to ensure that its youth and workers can match and exceed the standards of that new world. Entry into leading international benchmarking examinations (PIRLS, TIMMS, PISA) will provide us with empirical benchmarking of our intellectual capacity in relation to the rest of the world.
As the incoming Registrar, in an environment in which every predecessor has made a decisive contribution to the solidity of the human resource foundation that is CXC, my term priorities pick up from the challenges passed on as well as the looming texture of the field ahead, and this strategic framework seeks to lay out these priorities.
A major challenge is that of securing new accommodation for the headquarters in Barbados and for the Western Zone Office in Jamaica.
A significant step in this direction has been taken with the selection of a winning architectural design for the headquarters.
The ideas presented here represent only an initial framework for change in CXC. We now seek to evolve them into a comprehensive strategic plan using a broad participatory process that will seek to tap the ideas, intellect and commitment of the thousands of markers, educators and teachers who drive CXC as well as engage the public and private sectors in this rethinking.
We believe in the power of collaboration and are convinced that the stakeholders with whom we work constitute an inexhaustible fount of innovation and ideas which will make the plan a consensual representation of what we need to achieve in education in the region.
Once this configuration is set, our primary focus will be on systematic implementation, looking at the staff capacity, the financing and the process re-engineering necessary to realize this vision.
We invite you to join this exciting collaborative journey by logging on to www.cxc.org to make suggestions and recommendations.