Survey was to test competencies, says education chief

The intention of the controversial pre-test questionnaire was to examine first year students in a variety of categories such as reading and mathematics to determine their competencies upon arrival into secondary school.

That was the explanation from Chief Education Officer, Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw, who speaking at a press conference at the Ministry’s Constitution Road headquarters in Bridgetown on Saturday afternoon.

She was responding to questions from the media about the public outrage over the computer science ‘test’ conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank without parental consent. It contained questions thought to be very inappropriate and encroaching on privacy.

“The original pre-test as it was shown to this Ministry also had survey-type questions like the ones that have been circulating and this Ministry was against the inclusion of those types of items in the pre-test,” Archer-Bradshaw said.

Minister of Education Kay MConney. (Picture by Lennox Devonish)

During the press conference, Minister of Education Kay McConney responded to criticism from parents as well of the general public that Bradshaw was thrown under the bus. The Chief issued an apology to the nation on Thursday, but it was two more days before McConney responded.

“I believe they are misinformed in that regard. The first time the Chief spoke on this matter was on Thursday and I was in Parliament. We did have discussions about who was going to go to the public at this time. The decision was made that the Chief would go at this time because it was normally a project that was implemented at the technical level where these situations would be handled,” the Minister explained.

McConney, who also served Barbados as a diplomat for seven years in Toronto, added: “Everyone will have their own discussions and their own agendas but the persons who are here at this table know what happened and I am telling you that that is an untruth.”

However, she acknowledged that it will be tough for her Ministry to regain the public’s trust.

Education Minister responds to IDB survey controversy

“I know the hurt is real. I don’t think that we can gloss over it; there isn’t any quick fix. I think this Ministry is going to have to earn its way back into the trust of the people. There is no shortcut to it. We have to deliver on what we say.

“All of those points I laid out in terms of action we need to follow through on all of them and the entire team has to be a part of following through on them. When we do follow through, we need to let the parents and by extension know what we have done.”

In response to the fallout from this questionnaire scandal a committee made up of various stakeholders, including parents, teachers unions, legal advisors and Ministry officials, is going to be tasked with developing the data collection and ethics policy with urgency. Upon completion of the policy, it will be vetted by a soon to be established ethics committee that was first announced by Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley on Friday.

There will also be a Ministry hotline (535-0707) where the 733 students who took the test and their parents, can call in if they feel as if they were negatively affected. The hotline is open from Monday October 10 to Tuesday November 10 and then it will be reviewed. (JC)

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