CXC to focus on catering to students with autism

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The 21st Century classroom should be catering to the needs of autistic students, however, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has identified this as an area that was overlooked despite significant strides towards the inclusiveness of people with disabilities.

Newly appointed Registrar/Chief Executive Officer, Dr Wayne Wesley, said this was one of the major takeaways from the 51st Council Meeting of CXC held in Grenada.

Identified by CXC as an issue that must be addressed urgently, Dr Wesley stated that going forward, the barriers autistic learners encounter in accessing opportunities for quality education, and then removing those barriers, will be identified. “The suggestion for us is to begin to investigate how our products can give consideration to [people] who are autistic in writing our examinations. We have taken this on board to either work with the universities of the region to help determine how can we put forward assessment instruments that can be utilised by [people] who are autistic.”

According to the US Centres for Disease Control, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication, and affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States.

Cristofre Martin, Communications Officer, Autistic Foundation of Grenada, stated there is no not sufficient data to give an accurate number of students with autism, however, it is believed that 1 in 65 individuals will be diagnosed with autism. “There is no definitive answer as far as how many children in Grenada have autism. This is primarily due to a lack of diagnostics here. Our foundation offers what is called ADOS 1 assessments which can make an initial determination if a child falls on the autism spectrum. Definitive diagnosis then can only be obtained off-island sadly. There is no reason to believe that the incidence of autism is different than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Martin said the move by CXC to cater for students with autism is commendable. “Having CXC consider children with autism and other special needs is one step towards fulfilling the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child for universally accessible to education.”

Dr Wesley admitted that today’s classroom delivery style is similar to that of the 18th Century which lacks certain core competencies like collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving to help students thrive in today’s society. “We really need to change how education is currently being delivered. We would have heard from varying sources that are classroom delivery style right now is similar to that of the 18th Century…How do we change how information is delivered and received by participants, both teachers and learners?”

He informed that CXC will no longer just be an examining body, but one that influences teaching learning and assessment, moving towards changing the environment in which people learn. Another CXC mandate is to have the CPEA widely accepted by all countries throughout the region. “Another thing we want to do within the context of what Caricom has been articulating about the Caricom Single Market and Economy is [that] our CPEA should be as popularly accepted as our CSEC programme right across the region. Because if we are serious about the free movement of people across the region, people move with families and families involve children, and children who have to go to school and you have children across varying in age group that will be moving across the region. If we get the CPEA right across the region, we would advance significantly the objective for Caricom to be a single market economy for which all [people] will be able to realise the kind of movement required as we go across the region.”

Another crucial takeaway mentioned by Dr Wesley was the need to reduce the number of students leaving school without minimum competencies. “Right across the region, it is well known that a lot of our students leaving secondary school are actually leaving without the requite minimum competencies required to function in society. So, discussion around our products specifically the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) and the value of the CCSLC. I understand that there are challenges surrounding the CCSLC, but I guess once we begin to position that particular product the right way then people will understand that it is not about the less fortunate or those who cannot really perform, but it is about rescuing the young people of this region and ensure that they are equipped with the requisite minimum competencies,” he said.

To address this matter, Dr Wesley has called for CCSLC to be looked at as a continuum rather than a one-off assessment, to de-emphasise the assessment and begin to emphasise more the process to acquire the requisite learning experiences.

“I think one of the important points that came out is that we should not necessarily look at assessment as the end-all of what we do, but it is really a process, a continuum on which we are allowing persons to experience certain exposure to skills and competencies that they require in order to function in society. And I think we need to de-emphasise the assessment and begin to emphasise more the process that are leading to our students acquiring the requisite learning experiences that we want them to experience,” he said. “We are looking at how do we reposition those products so we can rescue those persons who are leaving school not necessarily being equipped with some level of certification.”

Awards for outstanding performance in the May/June 2019 Examination were presented at the Regional Top Awards Ceremony held during the 51st Council Meeting of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) on Thursday, 5 December 2019.

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