Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Exams are the business of the OEC


Published in The Sunday Gleaner, May 3, 2015

Title: Administering Overseas Examinations in Jamaica – A History of the Overseas Examinations Commission, 1887-2007
Author: Patrick E. Bryan

Their mission is to “effectively and efficiently administer access to exams and provide applicable accompanying support”. Their watchwords? Integrity, reliability, innovation and efficiency.

With more than 128 years under its belt, the Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC) has been the silent champion of Jamaican futures: working behind the scenes to facilitate the smooth running of overseas examinations in the island.

Most people know about the importance of the Caribbean Examinations Council’s (CXC) flagship exams at the high-school level: the Caribbean Secondary Examinations Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), but very few know about the OEC’s work to ensure that these exams are reliably and accurately administered every year.

In addition, the OEC oversees a United Kingdom-based international suite of secondary exams; conducts seminars for teachers, students and private candidates; prepares, issues, verifies and replaces exam results and certificates; collates exam statistics; and handles queries, re-mark requests and transcripts.

They have been the silent enablers of millions of Jamaicans who use these exams as stepping stones to tertiary education or as qualifiers for the world of work.
                                                                                                                                                                             
To celebrate their longevity, the OEC has published a book on the history of their organisation. Titled ‘Administering Overseas Examinations in Jamaica – A History of the Overseas Examinations Commission, 1887-2007’, the book, written by Professor Patrick Bryan, chronicles the development of the OEC from a small, voluntary committee to an internationally recognised commission.

In nine chapters, Bryan gives insight into the history of what has become an indispensable part of the Jamaican exams landscape. As he states in his introduction, the telling of the OEC’s story “is an extension of the story of high-school education and education policy in Jamaica”. The book will, therefore, prove useful for those seeking a deeper understanding of how the nation’s education and examination systems have developed over the years.

There are tables showing the figures for exam entrance fees, the numbers of candidates sitting these exams, and the passes in each over the years. There are also pictures of some of the country’s oldest and finest educational institutions and educators, as well as of chairmen and executive teams who have led the OEC.

Speaking on the relevance of this book to Jamaican history and heritage, Professor Bryan says, “One thing missing in Jamaica is solid work on its history of education. This is very important because education has been one of the major means of mobilisation for the poor man.”

“[Parents] want to be sure their children are sitting in exams where they can do their best. They want to know that when they get results, they can believe that that is what they did … that it is reliable internationally,” added Neville Ying, current chairman of the OEC. With this in mind, they have produced a book which shows how, over the years, the OEC has developed and implemented a system to ensure that exams are conducted with integrity, reliability, innovation and efficiency.

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