Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Education Ministry failed this test


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Given the general pattern of bumbling and fumbling that the country has come to expect as the norm from government agencies, the "human error" that allowed the wrong Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination pupil to be named winner of the President's Gold Medal could be put down to just another incorrigible official cock-up. But PNM MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey is right to champion the cause of the girl who was set up by the Education Ministry for crashing disappointment with an announcement identifying her as the medal winner—only to discover three days later that somebody at the Ministry had mixed up the third-placed pupil with the first, who turned out to be Naparima Girls High School pupil Sushma Karim.

It is hardly sufficient, Mr Jeffrey said, for the Ministry to say "Oops, sorry" and move on—which is what the officials there seemed to have done. The pupil in question is understandably upset at having this signal honour so unceremoniously removed. Not only should the Ministry have double-checked before misinforming her and the country, but the failure to get such a relatively simple matter right should also draw some disciplinary response, and lead to administrative changes to ensure against a repeat of such a fiasco.

For one thing, the individual or individuals who made this mistake need to be audited. Was the misidentification a matter of carelessness, cognition, or coordination? If the first, then the employees in question should not be entrusted with sensitive material of any kind. If the second, then the persons should get corrective treatment and be placed in a position where cognitive errors won't have such significant consequences. And, if lack of coordination was the problem, then the Ministry's procedures need to be professionalised.

Meanwhile, as Mr Jeffrey recommends, the Ministry should reach out to the disappointed young woman, make appropriate amends, and carry out suitable damage control. The Education Ministry has reportedly already received legal correspondence from the girl's parents, which in itself shows how the Ministry's bureaucrats have mishandled the matter. Had they responded with sensitivity and due regret, the parents might never have had to approach the MP, let alone a lawyer.

Now the Ministry finds itself between a rock and a hard place, unable to accede to any request to give the girl the President's Medal but possibly obligated to provide some sort of compensation. It would be a pity if this issue had to reach a court, and hopefully mediation can resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, the young woman in question should bear in mind that she did place third in the country, which is no mean achievement, and that, medal or not, her future is a bright one.