Guyana can help reimagine CXC for the 21st century

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By Terrence Richard Blackman, PhD

In 1972, participating governments of the region established Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). Its mandate was to provide the Caribbean with “syllabuses of the highest quality; valid and reliable examinations and certificates of international repute for students of all ages, abilities, and interests; services to educational institutions in the development of syllabuses, assessments and examinations’ administration, in the most cost-effective way” to ensure the global human resource competitiveness of the Caribbean

Today, the entity has 16 participating countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

In late September 2020, controversy erupted in Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean over unsatisfactory grades awarded by CXC in this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) sitting. CXC had, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, modified this year’s tests. Today, more than one month after the release of the CSEC and CAPE results, students, parents, schools, and governments are continuing to call for an investigation of the published examination results.

This controversy, coming, as it has, at the intersection of newly found oil wealth in Guyana and COVID-19, reminds us of the words of Sir Kenneth Hall, former principal of The University of the West Indies, Mona, “CXC is expected to facilitate the development of human resources for Caribbean development, provide training for the leaders of the region, and serve as the intellectual apparatus to nurture our identity as Caribbean people”.

This furore over the validity of the examination results raises the question of how well has CXC enhanced the “global human resource competitiveness of the Caribbean”.

ExxonMobil, Stabroek, Canje, and Kaieteur Blocks offshore Guyana operators are now firmly established in Guyana. They have estimated a recoverable resource base in Guyana of more than eight billion oil-equivalent barrels. ExxonMobil will be an integral part of Guyana’s life and the Caribbean region for the next 50 years.

It is worth remembering and reiterating that Guyana’s energy resources, uncovered after years of failed exploration, can transform the Caribbean region’s future. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for transformation. To ensure a prosperous, stable, and secure region, we must make significant and strategic investments in our education infrastructure.

The CXC Caribbean has a combined population of approximately 6.5 million people. This population size is comparable to Singapore, 5.8 million; Finland, 5.5 million; Scotland, 5.5, million; and Norway, 4.8 million.

The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for Singaporeans is US$61,700. For Norway, it is US$81,697; and for Finland, it is US$50,152. For comparison, the per capita GDP for Jamaicans is US$9,300, for Guyanese US$4,979, and Trinidadians US$17,129.

This per capita GDP gap is a function of the type and quality of education across the Caribbean region. Guyana and the Caribbean need to refocus their educational infrastructure on knowledge and value creation.

Guyana’s oil resources can catalyse the Caribbean’s growth as a region characterised by excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) research and innovation. Our geography and demography are our destiny. The Caribbean’s development trajectory must innovatively target the existential challenges we face, particularly in health, energy, and the environment. The purpose of our intellectual infrastructure must be to solve Caribbean cultures’ problems and enhance our ways of living.

In the Liliendaal Declaration of 2009, the Caricom Heads of Government expressed grave concerns that the region’s efforts to promote sustainable development and achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were under severe threat from the devastating effects of climate change and sea level rise. They observed that the increasing intensity of extreme weather events had resulted in severe damage to the region’s socio-economic resource base. Further, they noted that dangerous climate change was already occurring in all small islands and low-lying coastal developing states (SIDS) regions, including the Caribbean, and that many SIDS would cease to exist without urgent, ambitious, and decisive action on the part of the international community.

Almost all of the Caricom countries are energy-dependent. They survived the spike in energy prices in the 2000s; thanks, in large part, to the generosity of Venezuela through PetroCaribe. The time has come for the Caribbean energy majors, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana, to coordinate their actions across the energy sector on an energy independence plan for the entire region. Achieving this goal will require innovation and value-addition across the whole sector of regional energy assets — natural gas, biofuels, solar, and wind.

COVID-19 has laid bare the region’s health fragility and vulnerability to biological events such as the pandemic. It made clear our lack of preparedness for future events like these and our inability to deal independently with these threats. This reality amplifies the urgent need for an indigenous STEM knowledge-creation infrastructure. Ideas are the currency that ensure our survival as Caribbean people in the global matrix.

A 2016 ranking of countries by the number of scientific and engineering articles published in the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, clinical medicine, biomedical research, engineering and technology, and earth and space sciences revealed that 11,254 articles emerged from Singapore, while 185 items emerged from Trinidad and Tobago, which led the Caribbean in this regard.

CXC must begin to see itself as a catalyst for regional innovation to address the profound existential challenges. It must start to see itself as an institution that engages citizens across the Caribbean in an informed and rigorous conversation about our future. It must begin to see itself as an institution that connects young Guyanese, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Antiguans, et al to meaningful opportunities in a global economy. The mission of CXC today is to catalyse the creation of new, Caribbean-centric knowledge to help us live better lives, and Guyanese oil sector revenues can resource this reimagination of CXC.

There is an example that can guide us in this regard: Aberdeen, Scotland. Over the last four decades, as the North Sea has become the centre of one of the world’s most productive energy industries, the Aberdeen City region has gained a reputation as a global energy hub. If we are strategic in our educational investments the Caribbean region can become a new global energy hub.

British Petroleum found oil in the North Sea in the 1970s. By the mid-1980s there were over 100 offshore installations. Similar to what is occurring in Guyana today, a new oil and gas industry took root.

The Aberdeen City region’s oil and gas industry has made Scotland a centre of global excellence in offshore engineering, subsea technology, and the export of offshore goods and services. The economic activity of this sector is today worth around £4 billion a year. Aberdeen is home to world-renowned expertise, skills and knowledge created and harboured in the region. It is a leader in this vital global industry. The Caribbean’s ambition must be to leverage Guyana’s offshore oil and gas industry to develop a modern Caribbean region. To do this, we must restructure CXC as an institution. 

How might we reimagine CXC?

What type of educational offerings can help prepare Guyanese, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Jamaicans, Antiguans, et al for careers in the energy and associated industries?

What concrete steps can we take to prepare Caribbean youth academically to take advantage of oil sector opportunities?

For example, we need geoscientists, such as geologists and geophysicists, Caribbean technical talent analysing mineral, soil, or rock samples and evaluating underground geologic structures to find oil and gas fields. We need Caribbean petroleum engineers to determine the best drilling methods to manage the production of oil and gas in such a manner as to protect our environment.

Today’s high-tech petroleum engineers shoot 3D “pictures” to walk around inside an image of earth virtually. They guide drilling rigs from control rooms miles away. They work with cutting edge, advanced directional drilling technology, sophisticated software, remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) underwater, and with 3D visualisation.

CXC must begin to engage in syllabi, curriculum, and assessment development to foster knowledge creation in these areas. Our mathematics exams and college preparatory courses, particularly those in the sciences, require more rigour than currently if we are to produce, in sufficient numbers, students likely to be successful in petro-physics, geology, geosciences, geophysics, chemistry, hydraulics, environmental sciences, information technology, and safety at the highest level.

COVID-19 has made clear that a capacity for knowledge creation is the currency of the future. CXC has the network and the expertise to drive knowledge creation in all of its facets across our region and Guyana will soon have the resources to make a comprehensive self-reflection possible. 

(Terrence Richard Blackman, PhD, is a member of the Guyanese diaspora, an associate professor of mathematics, and a founding member of the undergraduate programme in mathematics at Medgar Evers College, and a Member of The School of Mathematics at The Institute for Advanced Study. He previously served as dean of the School of Science, Health and Technology at Medgar Evers College, where he has worked for more than 25 years.)

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