JIS News

It is almost mind boggling to imagine an organisation marking approximately 1.2 million examination scripts in 30 subject areas, written by more than 150,000 students from the Caribbean in just five weeks each year.
Yet, this is the job of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), and one which it proudly performs.
Administering and marking exams is however, only a small part of the mandate of the CXC, which is also responsible for developing secondary school syllabuses, organising workshops for teachers across the region and providing feedback to schools on how student performances can be improved.
Hailed as a successful regional project, CXC was instituted by CARICOM governments in 1972, as the official examining body for secondary and post-secondary candidates in member countries.
The late Prime Minister of Barbados, Hon. Errol Barrow in his address at the inaugural meeting of CXC in January 1973, said it was time for Caribbean teachers, who taught secondary schools in the region, to “set the policy for examinations that passed or failed Caribbean students”.
It was in 1979 that CXC offered its first exams, with 30,000 students taking the flagship Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) in five subjects – English Language, Geography, History, Mathematics and Integrated Science.
CXC Pro-Registrar, Mr. Glenroy Cumberbatch, recalls that there were a number of teething pains in the early years.
He tells JIS News that the first certificates were not only issued late, but the Council omitted to place the date of the examinations on the certificates.
“That resulted in the certificate having to be reissued and the staff hand stamping the date on each and every one of those certificates,” he says.
He jokes that persons, who sat those first exams, are the holders of the only certificates with hand-stamped dates, and, therefore, could very well be holding a collectors’ item, which could prove valuable in the future.
CXC has grown since then, and in addition to CSEC, it offers the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE), the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) and the Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ).
The diversity of the subject disciplines offered by the CXC in the CSEC, is also a testament to the growth of the organisation. Mr. Cumberbatch says the CXC has added more technical areas to its roster of subjects including physical education and sports, and theatre arts, which he describes as one of the most “robust” in the world.
“In our theatre arts, we do drama, dance and stage craft. No other (examination body) that I have seen does all three to that level. So much so that students that left one of our Caribbean countries and went to United States (US) to do theatre arts they were given a year off of their studies,” he says proudly. However, he says not many students take up these new areas, because of the focus in the Caribbean on academic subjects.
The CXC has also expanded its subject areas at the CAPE level, but one of its most significant achievements is the introduction of the CAPE associate degree, designed especially for students, who might wish to pursue studies abroad. Mr. Cumberbatch says the CXC is also very proud of its use of the school-based assessment (SBA) in its evaluation, as many major examination bodies are now turning to that tool as a means of assessing student performance.
“Most students, who have done CAPE, have gone into universities with a whole set of new skills in terms of research, in terms of analysis, in terms of summarising and so on. One of the feedback that we get from universities all the time, is that these students can do research,” he expounds.
CXC has also made inroads, with its CVQ, which is a vocational exam rooted in competencies and standards. Mr. Cumberbatch says the exam has been introduced in five countries and is currently being expanded.
The CXC, which for many years, was seen as an underdog among examining bodies, has come into it’s own since it was established, with its certificates now being accepted by most regional and international universities. Mr. Cumberbatch says CXC passes are accepted as being on par with United Kingdom (UK) qualifications. He says it is a similar case in the US.
He tells JIS News that over the 30 years since the Council offered its first exams, “we have now reached a stage where the universities, the majority of the universities in the United States accept CSEC qualifications and CAPE qualifications, to the point where they give more credit than the universities in the Caribbean.”
He notes that several universities in the US will take two years off their four-year computer programmes, if a student has CAPE passes in the subject. The Pro-Registrar says the CXC plans to update its website soon to include information on possible exemptions and the level of acceptance of CXC qualifications at overseas universities.
While, the CXC has achieved much, there are still more areas in which the Council plans to venture. Mr. Cumberbatch says the CXC is looking into the possibility of introducing a primary school exit examination within the next two years. He points out that while most Caribbean countries have their own primary school exit exam there is still need for a regional test.
“One of the problems around the region is that people are travelling much more and CSM (CARICOM Single Market) is facilitating greater movement of people. So, you do an exam in Jamaica and then you go to work and live in another country and you’re taking your children with you, what happens? In some cases people ask you to take another exam,” he notes.
Mr. Cumberbatch contends that if there was one regional exam, then persons could move easily, without worrying about acceptance of their children’s primary school qualifications.
Other areas into which the CXC is looking to expand is the administering of psychometric exams to measure persons’ aptitude for certain jobs as well as certification of persons in sub-specialties, such as organic chemistry.
Mr. Cumberbatch says that as the Council looks ahead, one of its major goals is to become less reliant on the subsidies provided by regional governments. He says the CXC has already signed a contract with a publisher for distribution and marketing of syllabuses, past papers and study guides, which should see the Council receiving more revenue from their sales.
The CXC also plans to develop interactive sites, which will allow students, who have difficulty in a subject area, to link with persons, who can help.
Mr. Cumberbatch also points out that the CXC continues to be cheaper than the competition and is usually very responsive to queries made to the Council, and therefore, continues to inspire confidence as an examining body.
Mr. Cumberbatch credits much of the achievements of the Council to the stalwarts, who helped to lay a solid foundation for the examining body and they were honoured in separate ceremonies held in Jamaica, and Barbados earlier this year.

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