CXC at 40 – Celebrating the Accomplishments: Continuing the Journey
“This new institution forges another link in the chain of Commonwealth Caribbean integration, a chain whose links have been increasing in number and in strength over the past ten years. It is, therefore, fitting that so early in the year 1973, which augurs well to be a year of challenge to the Caribbean Commonwealth and to its institutions that the Caribbean Examinations Council should begin to function.” The Right Honourable Errol Barrow, Prime Minister of Barbados.
Throwback to 2013: This article was written by Mr. Cleveland Sam for the special edition of the CARICOM View Magazine in observance of the 40th anniversary of the Caribbean Community
The quotation from the speech delivered by the Right Honourable Errol Barrow, at the inaugural meeting of the Caribbean Examinations Council in 1973 is very instructive or perhaps even prophetic reflecting 40 years later.
Indeed, not only has CXC emerged as a vital link in the Regional integration movement; but it has also built a reputation as one of the most critical pillars in the Region’s education architecture.
The advent of CXC, an indigenous examinations board, complemented what was taking place in the political sphere at the time around the world. Former colonies were asserting their political self-determination; it was time for the Caribbean to assert its educational sovereignty.
The words of Prime Minister Barrow are again enlightening: “Our teachers will set examination papers for the testing of Caribbean pupils in what they themselves have taught. Our teachers will mark and assess the examination work done by Caribbean pupils and recommend pass or fail. The institution of this Council therefore gives the Caribbean teacher an opportunity to come of age – to take over fully the education of the young people of the Caribbean in the same way that the Caribbean Community is taking its economic destinies into its own hands.”
Forty years later, the framers of the CXC project must be proud of the achievements it has accomplished in a relatively short time and the impact it has had on the Caribbean education landscape. This impact has gone much further than that originally intended by the framers: that is, to prepare syllabuses and set examinations based on those syllabuses and issue certificates and diplomas.
Today, CXC offers a comprehensive suite of qualifications which caters to learners of differing ages, interests and abilities; training of teachers; technical services to Ministries of Education; statistical data processing services; Item Writing training, Psychometric training; provision of learning support materials.
From offering five subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) at its first sitting in 1979, CXC now offers 35 subjects at CSEC; 46 Units at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE); more than 100 standards in the Caribbean Vocational Qualification; the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC); and the latest addition, the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA).
During a given year, CXC trains hundreds of teachers across the 16 Participating Countries in a variety of areas. The Council conducts teacher orientation workshops, School-Based Assessment training, Item-Writing workshops and learning support resources development training.
Additionally, the annual script-marking exercise is a huge training ground for thousands of the Region’s teachers.
“When we meet as markers and we discuss, you realise the kinds of problems you get from your students, it is not peculiar to your territory, but is common throughout the Caribbean,” said Penelope Williams-Peters, a Guyanese teacher who teaches in the Turks and Caicos Islands and marks in Trinidad and Tobago. “You get a greater understanding as to how to deal with these problems, because you gain as you have one way, one method, but when you interact with one other, you tend to have more to put together and out of it cometh good.”
The training aspect of the marking exercise is also appreciated by Michelle Saunders-Clavery, a Vincentian who lives and teaches in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I have gained quite a lot from it,” the English teacher said. “The marking and the standardising, it teaches you a lot about what you look for when you come to mark students’ work. When you come here, you get a better idea about what to look for, what the examination is looking for and I think every teacher should get this experience.”
One of CXC’s most important contributions to the Caribbean is its role in bringing the Region closer together in many more ways than one. From its inception, CXC has been a very inclusive organisation and much of its work is carried out by a multi-layered network of Caribbean resources, not just by the small staff at the Barbados and Jamaica offices.
The work of developing a syllabus for each subject CXC offers is carried out by a Subject Panel; the work of putting together an examination paper for each is carried out by an Examining Committee. The members comprising these committees come from different countries across the Caribbean and together produce work for the entire Region.
But perhaps the single most significant contributor to regional integration in CXC’s cap is the annual marking exercise. This is the largest mobilisation and concentration of Caribbean people at any given time in the year. During three weeks in July, CXC mobilises almost 6,000 teachers from 17 countries. More than 2,500 of these teachers are moved from the 17 countries to Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
CXC recruits, transports, houses, feeds and pays these teachers.
The marking exercise is much more than marking examination scripts. It is a social, cultural and education mélange. And this is where the integration magic occurs!
Imagine spending two weeks around the same table with eight people who teach the same subject in eight different schools in eight different countries. Then, think about eating lunch around a table with 10 people from five countries who teach at eight different schools and mark five different subjects.
Add to this mix the social activities, tours and shopping trips that markers take part in and the Regional integration puzzle is complete.
Lifelong friendships are formed, professional and social relationships are built and even a few marriages result.
Dr. Merle Baker, a Trinidadian educator who marked CSEC from its inception in 1979, reflecting on her marking experiences at an event in Jamaica in 2009 spoke in glowing terms of the fun times.
“We can now speak with authority about the beauty and natural wonders of those Caribbean destinations [marking centres]; the majestic elegance of the Kaieteur, Orinduik and Dunn’s River waterfalls, and the serenity of Harrison’s Cave, at CXC’s expense.”
Dr. Baker, who was speaking on behalf of honourees for the 30th Anniversary of CSEC, reminisced on the cultural potpourri that is marking.
“…We did not only learn about our countries, but we learned about each other, our similarities and differences. At the first [marking] tables there were examiners from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, Bahamas, Guyana and Belize…an original CARICOM setting,” she emphasised, “which made intimate connections as friends and comrades, as the Guyanese then called themselves. We were united for two concentrated weeks on a consuming pressurized task and whilst thus engaged we were able to discuss politics, family, social and cultural issues, educational needs and sports.”
Mrs. Marguerite Bowie, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Jamaica, noted in an interview for a CXC documentary, “I consider CXC one of the most enduring forces of integration in the Caribbean, because it brings together teachers from across the Caribbean to share.” The former Deputy Chair of CXC added, “It also exposes people to the different cultures.”
Very often, CXC is compared with The University of the West Indies and West Indies Cricket as three forces of regional integration. However, the impact and reach of CXC is unmatched by any other regional institution.
One person who is clear about this is Dr. the Honourable Tim Gopeesingh, current Minister of Education in Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking at the 2011 Opening Ceremony of Council and Presentation to Regional Top Awards at the Hyatt in Port-of-Spain, Minister Gopeesingh said that CXC creates the strongest bond among Caribbean people.
“…Our Region and national societies have perhaps never viewed the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) as one very crucial, significant element of Regional unity, and I say tonight that the time has come for us to change this,” the Minister stated. “Far beyond ensuring that our Region’s top students know they are recognised and appreciated – you have subconsciously played a very major role in enhancing Caribbean unity…”
The Trinidadian Education Minister posited that the common CXC examinations that Caribbean students write annually: CSEC and CAPE, are perhaps strongest existing Regional bond.
Sir Kenneth Hall, OJ, ON, former Chair of CXC and a former Governor-General of Jamaica, reflected on CXC’s role in Regional integration.
“There are few institutions in the Caribbean today that have had such a significant impact on the lives, the values, of the Caribbean people,” Sir Kenneth explained. “Every secondary school in the Caribbean is affected by and influenced by CXC.”
More than every school, CXC has impacted every family in the Caribbean at one point in the last 40 years. To be more precise, “From the inception of the first examinations in 1979 to today, 6.2 million Caribbean persons from 19 territories have written CXC exams,” stated Dr Didacus Jules, Registrar of CXC in a recent article.
As CXC implements its vision to assure the human resource competitiveness of the Caribbean, the accomplishments of CXC over the last 40 years have given CXC and the Region the ability to look to the future with confidence.