Education Minister responds to IDB survey controversy

There will be no more survey-type questionnaires distributed in any school in Barbados until the data collection and ethics policy has been developed and vetted.

That was the message coming from Minister of Education Kay McConney, who was speaking at a press conference at the Ministry’s Constitution Road headquarters in Bridgetown on Saturday.

She was responding to the outrage and demands for accountability from parents and the general public surrounding what was originally called a computer science test administered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), but some of the questions were deemed to be very invasive and inappropriate, in addition to being done without parental consent.

She apologised to the nation, but also said she had no intention of stepping down.

McConney said that after listening and appreciating the perspectives of stakeholders in education as well as the general public, she made some decisions in consultation with Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley.

“Emails to this effect have already been sent out to the principals of our various schools and I want you to know that the data collection instrument which had the offending questions was stopped on the very Tuesday that the Chief (Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw) and I discovered that these surveys were being done. They were stopped the very same day.”

McConney, who also served Barbados as an international trade negotiator at the World Trade Organisation, added: “I have been advised that all instruments that were completed by students have now been collected and stored safely in a vault on a premises controlled by the Government. Consultants involved in the design and data collection aspect at various levels will no longer be associated with this project.”

A committee made up of various stakeholders, including 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) set up from October 10 to November 10. It will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and there will be a review after the initial period.

“The Ministry of Education recognises and has heard the parents who have said that they and their children have been negatively impacted mentally by this. And if there are any persons out there who believe they have been negatively affected by this, know that the Inter-American Development Bank has agreed to work with the Ministry of Education to make sure that mental health support is provided.”

In response to claims that the Minister of Education was dodging the spotlight given the storm of controversy caused by the pre-test survey questionnaire distributed to 11-year-olds at school, McConney said: “I took this matter seriously because I am not just a minister, I am a mother. I had the choice to rush to the press or rush to understand exactly what happened and rush to action. I took the time to listen to the very valid concerns of parents and other Barbadians. I felt the fury and your outrage and I understand it.”

The Ministry of Education held a meeting with the IDB on Friday, in which it was made clear that they would no longer be working with consultants that were hired and had responsibility for this evaluation. Seven hundred and thirty-three students from Princess Margaret Secondary School, St George Secondary School, Graydon Sealy Secondary School, Queen’s College and Coleridge and Parry School took the survey. (JC)



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