Some students from the St Stephen’s Primary School were upbeat before sitting the Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.

by Ralph Jemmott

On the Friday, July 8, 2022 edition of Brass Tacks, moderator Ms. Sade Jemmott made a number of very sensible and highly observant statements on the current preoccupation with the Barbados Secondary School Entrance Examination (BSSEE), commonly known as the Eleven Plus.

Ms. Jemmott is not a relative and I have never had the pleasure of her acquaintance. Before making the statements, she noted that she would probably get into trouble for what she was about to say. She continued to make the valid observation that the Eleven Plus debate within the context of the total reform of the Barbadian educational sector, constituted in her words, ‘a red herring.’

The moderator is right in the sense that many of the factors that limit the quantitative and qualitative learning outcomes of Barbadian children, both cognitively and affectively have little or nothing to do with the BSSEE.

In fact, if you study world educational trends you might perceive that formal schooling is doing best in countries with high material and psycho-social cultures. These include Japan, South Korea, Finland and most of the Scandinavian states. Across the board school systems are doing poorly in many countries. There are great schools in England, but white working class boys from the Council Estates, submerged in the ‘yob’ culture, are not doing well. In the U.S parents are concerned that they send their children to school with fear that there might be a fatal shooting on any given day.

Far too often formal schooling is discussed out of context, the context of family breakdown, social decay, material and cultural impoverishment. It took COVID to tell us that many children not only did not have any access to technology, but their homes did not have electricity.

The reality is that some children wake up with little to eat. But don’t tell that to the bourgeois ‘educators’ who have clamoured to the top of the educational establishment.

Abolish the Eleven Plus, zone all the schools, make the Harrison and Queen’s Colleges into all ability comprehensive schools and ‘just so’ everybody will learn and presumably become high profile doctors and lawyers, architects,
actuaries and political scientists or whatever status
positions we obsess about.

Some amazing claims have been made against the Eleven Plus Examination many of which have absolutely nothing to with the test itself. They are more about the mechanism of transfer from the primary to the secondary cycle within a hierarchically structured school system that reflect the class stratification of a capitalist democratic society.

There is no society operating within the capitalist mode of production where all schools are considered equal even where total zoning exists. Parity of esteem does not exist in most schools system, besides with schools as with other things in life, reputations are won and lost.

One of the most outrageous indictments of the Eleven Plus is that it promotes classism. One moderator on Brass Tacks blames classism on the Eleven Plus. Another moderator whose understanding of education is highly questionable, when told that a gas attendant was working for a mere BDS$300 a week said that was why he would abolish the Eleven Plus.

Admittedly that is a pitiful wage, but what has it got to do with the Eleven Plus? That low wage is a function of the wage market conditions and of the interaction between labour and capital.

Presumably if there was no Eleven Plus, there would be no class variations as low income earners would disappear. The truth is that social stratification is a product of an economic system called ‘Capitalism’ which distributes its surplus unevenly. Thus the bank manager draws $150,000 a year while the security guard at the same bank gets $10,000.

The manager lives in a mansion in a gated community at Royal Westmoreland, the guard in a chattel house in Eagle Hall. What formal schooling can do and does, is to allow the child of the security guard to go to the same school as the manager’s and if he has the ability and applies himself, to become a bank manager one day. Thus formal schooling can help to mollify or soften class rigidities by affording some degree of upward social mobility.

I am not a Marxist, but the Marxist critique of education in a capitalist society is absolutely valid. Schooling in capitalist society, while it might offer upward mobility, tends to replicate the social relations of the capitalist mode of production. However class distinction is not so much a product of schooling as it is of the mode of production.

In the 1970s the British Labour Party, for lack of a better word ‘comprehensivised’ many of the old grammar schools in Britain. The expressed claim by many on the left-wing of the Party was to create a more egalitarian society. This of course has not happened.

British society today is as class ridden and class driven as it ever was. Of course, the British with typical social hypocrisy never touched the elite public schools like Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Rugby and Winchester to which the aristocracy and the upper classes still send their children. These children still emerge at the top of UK society
in almost every field of endeavour.

The Daily Mail on November 21, 2012, produced a headline ‘How Britain is still being ruled by public school elites.’ Almost a third of those persons holding senior positions in business, politics, law and the diplomatic service attended public schools and were Oxbridge educated.

Guess who are doing worst in the British education system, white working class males coming out of a council house environment affected by a materially and culturally impoverished socio-economic environment. Anyone who thinks that abolishing an exam will change the Barbadian social structure must be living in la-la land.

If you want to abolish class distinctions, then you may have to advocate a completely different mode of production, maybe a centrally driven, command style communistic type of governance that will supposedly guarantee equality. But as Gladstone Holder used to point out, that is the type of equality that can only be enforced by a tyranny, which
it often does.

Sade Jemmott made bold to express the concern that the conversation on education reform would not be in her words “highjacked” by persons with “chips on their shoulders” about what school they went to or didn’t go to.

A serious reform movement should avoid the ‘leh we pull um down mentality.’

It must try to rise above the compounded silliness that characterises so much of contemporary discourse.

One aspect of that compounded nonsense is the notion that if the child does not obtain a certain mark in the Eleven Plus, he or she is “condemned” to failure. Utter garbage! What, pray tell, is the “condemnation” mark? Children are born with or develop certain abilities, not all of which are scholastic or academic but which are all needed in contemporary society.

Regrettably or fortunately, we are not all alike and are born into different circumstances. Besides, people will always discriminate based on whether one is short or tall, fat or thin, black, brown or white, beautiful or not so beautiful, athletic or clumsy. These are distinctions we all have to live with.

Get over it.

Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and regular contributor on social issues.

The post #BTColumn – The Eleven Plus: A Red Herring appeared first on Barbados Today.

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