CXC – Charting a Course of Success Regionally & Internationally


Regional examination body, Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is looking to expand its services across the region and generate income over the next several years, by making its expertise in examinations available to regional and international projects.
Chairman of the CXC, and Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Kenneth Hall, disclosed this in an interview with JIS news on the growth and achievements of the Council since its establishment in 1972.
He says the CXC has developed a strategic plan for the future, which included the continued improvement in the quality of examinations in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which the exams are processed. In addition, he says, the Council will look at the use of technology in the overall management of its exams and that chief among its priorities is the development and training of teachers. Measures are also being explored to address curricula for examination and syllabus.
“As a regional organisation,” he further explains, “CXC is looking forward to working with the national examinations boards.” Already, CXC has been invited to manage the national exams in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Another important development in the history of the Council is the extension of examination services to the Dutch-speaking territories of Saba, Suriname and St. Maarten.
“This is the 30th anniversary of CXC and this period is viewed as one of reflection and celebration of achievement, but also a time to look at the future of the organisation,” he comments, adding, “there are significant challenges, because we still run as a regional institution and some countries are developing national exams. We are also faced with the challenge of how to make this viable, financially. maintaining the viability and affordability of the exams, is an objective and a challenge that we face”.
Continuing, Prof. Hall points out that “as any organisation, after 30 years, we have to look at ways of managing this institution, introducing changes in the way it functions, utilising the technology and publicising its successes much more. We believe very strongly, that CXC has had a very successful record, but it is not as well known as we believe it should be, so we will be working on programmes of publicity; working with governments to ensure that CXC continues to have high priority in national planning”.
Professor Hall notes that in some respects, the discussions about CXC when it was first established, was very similar to the current ones about the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). “Can you imagine, recommending that we disengage from Cambridge. The debates were fierce and reluctance was there. But after 30 years, CXC is no longer questioned in that regard. They have achieved a level of recognition and acceptance and credibility in the region, so that no government any longer question whether CXC should be used as a way of measuring the achievements of students and that is not an insignificant achievement”.
The establishment of the Council, he explains, occurred at a time when Caribbean governments were seeking independence. They were also trying to establish regional cooperation within certain areas and education was identified as one of these priorities.
“Perhaps even more critical, was the notion that Caribbean examinations should reflect Caribbean conditions. It was very important that they establish a Caribbean Examination reflecting Caribbean needs. There was also the cost factor, foreign exchange would be reserved in the region.so the exam syllabi were developed by Caribbean people, for the Caribbean and not designed by the United Kingdom (UK) boards, largely based on the UK education system and exported to the colonies. This was a Caribbean-based process,” he declares.
He points out that the General Certificate Examination (GCE), at the time, was sat as an end of secondary school examination, measuring proficiency only at the end of the four or five year period. It also provided the certification to go on to higher education or into the work force. In 1972, the GCE was the most important high school certificate.From the inception, Professor Hall states, the CXC was concerned about addressing the needs of a larger proportion of the end of secondary school candidates, as GCE/ O’ Levels was never intended to include all the schools.
“So, it’s (CXC) a much more extensive examination. At the end of the time, the CXC’s Caribbean School Examination Certificate (CSEC) was widely expected to replace the GCE, which catered to the top performing 20 per cent of students. CXC sought to move away from this exclusionary approach to education. It sought to assist the region in moving toward the goal of providing secondary education for all,” he explains.
Professor Hall says that the CXC assisted in the democratisation of and access to quality secondary education for the people of the Caribbean. It also sought to offer a broad range of subjects that catered to the different interest of individuals and students and the development needs of the region.
The regional exam took into account, the various levels of accomplishments that could reasonably be expected from students completing secondary schools. CXC therefore, develops syllabi and examinations for Caribbean secondary education certificate, using three proficiencies; basic, general and technical. The general proficiency syllabus and examination, as defined by the Council, requires a sufficient breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding to allow candidates, who respond well to undertake study of the specific subjects beyond the fifth year of secondary school.
The Basic Proficiency syllabus and exam on the other hand, caters to the needs of candidates, who may not subsequently pursue further studies in areas related to the subject. The technical proficiency syllabus and exam caters to those candidates who require a greater practical orientation and preparation for further technical studies or pro-technician training than offered in a subject in the same area at General Proficiency. This scheme has a more practical proficiency orientation compared with the General and Basic. All three were intended primarily for candidates who had completed five years of secondary school.
“Pass and fail is not part of the CXC vocabulary,” the Chairman states, “You do not pass or fail CXC. We wanted to describe achievements of students and hence the three levels. The emphasis in CXC is on the assessing and reporting levels of achievements, rather than establishing an end product and you have failed or passed it. For the CXC, achievements of different grades 1-3 is considered acceptable for entry into tertiary education programmes and fields of employment requiring satisfactory proficiency in the subject. Depending on the level of proficiency required in the subject, the other grades are also useful in that regard”.
Another significant difference between the CXC and GCE is the inclusion of a School-Based Assessment (SBA) as a critical element of teaching and assessment. The SBA brings assessment and teaching together for the benefit of the student and provides the teacher with the opportunity to participate in the assessment process that leads to the final grade obtained by the student. It allows for continuous assessment and feedback for students to improve achievement. The SBA now accounts for a part of the final grade in many CSEC subjects.
“This is a very important innovation, because there is no longer the distinction between taking the exams and that whole notion that you can attend school for five years and that does not count for the students’ proficiency,” Professor Hall remarks.
He points out however, that similarities do exist between the GCE and the CXC, in that they are taken at the end of secondary school and that they both establish the standards expected of students completing secondary education after five years. According to the CXC Chairman, the CSEC is now seen as the basic entry into employment at most levels. The exams, he says, provides a passport and it is the basic requirement for a tertiary education in the region and abroad. It is recognised internationally as the qualification for entry into tertiary institutions in countries such as the United States, the UK and Canada.
The CXC has developed a memoranda of understanding with various examination boards and forged relationships with Universities in the United States, so that CXC becomes the basic requirement for entry, just as GCE did and continues to do.
The CSEC is now taken by all the schools throughout the 16 English-speaking member countries in the Caribbean. These territories include Anguilla, Antigua, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In 2003, CXC offered 33 CSEC subjects to more than 128,000 candidates with approximately 500,000 entries in the May-June exams. The first CSEC exams, which were offered in May/June 1979 in five subjects, saw a candidate total of approximately 30,000 with 60,000 subject entries. “This is a remarkable growth,” Professor Hall points out.
He says that the achievements of CXC, which began through broad-based representation in the region, include the strengthening of Caribbean regionalism. “CXC must be seen as an important regional organisation in education. It contributes as well to the development of regionalism in the areas in which it functions. It also brings together thousands of teachers every year.it is a very collaborative, involved process. CXC is a major contributor to regional development,” he explains.
In developing syllabi over the years, CXC has followed procedures that ensured that the studies were relevant to the needs and circumstances of Caribbean students and to the social, economic and developmental needs of the region. Wherever possible, the requirements of the syllabi and examinations are geared to develop a Caribbean orientation among students and to prepare them as Caribbean and international citizens.
The syllabi are developed by Caribbean specialists drawn from among qualified secondary level teachers, and specialists from the tertiary institutions around the region, including universities and practitioners in the field.
In developing and revising the syllabi on which the exams are based, the Council consults with employers for their opinions on the content. Over the last five years, CXC has introduced a number of new CSEC syllabi including syllabi in theatre arts, music, electronic document preparation and management and physical education.
The Council also offers the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), at the post-secondary level and this is intended to replace the GCE/A Levels. The CAPE scheme provides educational opportunities for a wide cross-section of students who wish to pursue post-secondary studies. Courses are defined in two units and a unit may be completed in one year of post-secondary study and the relevant examination taken. In cases where the subject consists of two units, the student may proceed to the second unit of study and examination in the next year or in a later year.
The CAPE allows for depth and breadth of study, providing students with wide options for selecting courses or study to upgrade their knowledge and skills for a particular vocation or for satisfying the prerequisites for entering into certain programmes for future education and training. The CAPE carries 40 subjects and can be taken in schools at the sixth form level or its equivalent as well as at community and teachers colleges.
On the whole, Professor Hall reports, the quality of performance of students over the last ten years has been encouraging and candidates have performed very well in subjects such as agricultural sciences, information and industrial technology, business studies, and home economics. The CXC issues a number of revised syllabi annually and continues to review its subject offerings and make additions as required to respond to the needs and interests of candidates.

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