Updated: May 13, 2021
We may all be in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. The ongoing global impacts of COVID are still unfolding, and the stories of the hardest hit simply aren’t being told in the mainstream media. But some brave souls are not just speaking out, they’re fighting back. 18 year old Adela Scotland (@infinite_adela) joins us today to talk about her justice campaign for the students of the Caribbean whose graduation grades and university hopes were dashed by a still-unexplained decision by the CXC examination board.
Please note: Due to technical limitations on Adela’s end, the audio quality of this episode is quite poor. We’ve done our best to clean it up, and provided a full transcript below to help clarify her message, which we felt was important enough to use this audio, regardless. We hope you agree.
1:10 Our 2020 nightmare
7:00 Just deal with it
11:00 Lives were changed forever
16:40 A bit of a perfectionist
18:20 The ideal, perfect school system
26:50 How can people help?
29:20 Class difference
31:00 Don’t give up hope
Adrienne MacIain 0:01
Hey everyone, welcome to the That's Aloud podcast. I'm your hostess, Dr. Adrienne MacIain, and today we're here with Adela Scotland. Please introduce yourself.
Adela Scotland 0:12
Hello, everyone, my name is Adela Scotland. I'm 18 years old, and I live on the island of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.
Adrienne MacIain 0:24
So tell us a little bit about why you wanted to be on this podcast today, because you have such a powerful and important story that the world is not getting.
Adela Scotland 0:33
I wanted to be on this podcast today because for a long time teachers and students and parents have been trying to get any kind of international coverage and awareness out there about the CXC, so I felt like this would have been a nice opportunity to get that ball rolling.
Adrienne MacIain 1:02
Absolutely. So tell us your story. What happened? Tell us about your 2020 nightmare, and then where that's led you to.
Adela Scotland 1:17
My 2020 nightmare was not just a nightmare that I experienced. It was a nightmare experienced by thousands of students, in particular residing in the Caribbean region. It was literally just a blatant disregard for human decency, and just any form of integrity. So what happened was we have our own examinations, so how America has SATs, and England has A-Levels. This is kind of similar to the British system in that we had the Caribbean Examination Council, called CXC. And with that you write two exams, either CSEC, and that basically signifies that you have completed secondary school, and then CAPE, which is what I wrote, which is what you would write to get into college and stuff. The writing CAPE would make you eligible to apply to any Caribbean university, or any British University, and some Canadian and US universities. Right, so this is basically like your SAT. And because of the pandemic, you know, we would have expected our council to follow suit to first-world countries that we "model" our model off of, like Britain, where they use the projected grades, you know, but they did not do that. What they did was they modified the exam paper so that it would only be a multiple choice, and our school-based assessment. So, I mean, we had to go out in the height of the pandemic here to write our examinations. And in some territories like Brazil, because students had to--sorry, not Brazil, I mean Belize. In some territories like Belize, some students had COVID-19, and they did not indicate that to the teachers, or their principals. So they went to do the exam, and then the COVID-19 cases in these areas just skyrocketed, because now students were getting it.
Adrienne MacIain 3:40
Let me stop you for a moment because I just want to explain to people who don't know how this was handled in other places. In the United States, for example, students were not asked to sit their SAT's, and instead many colleges just decided to go what they called test-optional. And so they just decided not to look at the SAT scores, and to take into consideration other things like grades, and extracurricular activities, and things like this. They just decided, you know, we can't risk sending students out to take these tests right now. And so that is not what happened in Trinidad and Tobago, or anywhere in the Caribbean it sounds like.
Adela Scotland 4:23
Yeah, that is not what happened. So essentially, our multiple choice questions get repeated. So once you do a couple papers, you have a fair chance of getting in the 90s. Right?
Adrienne MacIain 4:39
So basically, they give you the same or a similar test, year after year, is what you're saying.
Adela Scotland 4:46
Yeah, they do. Yes. So from the get go, you know, it was like, how is this going to be an accurate gauge of our ability or competency in the subject if all you had to do was just practice a couple papers, in effect. And they ignored these questions coming from teachers and some principals, and they went ahead and, to this day, we don't know what it was that they did, how they marked us, how the grades were allocated, or anything. But when results came out, it was just an epic disaster all across the board. I remember when I got my results and they show my grades, I got... So our grading system is where a one is the highest attainable grade, right? So I got two ones, I got two twos, and a three. And while that doesn't sound too bad, it is bad for me, and my ability, and the scores I would have went in with from a school-based assessment. As well as the fact that they barely brought any new questions this year. So even... and because I would have studied prior, even the new questions, I was showing me the answers to, so I was expected to see all ones. So when I didn't I started crying. I was like, 'What is this? How is this possible?' And I was beating myself up until I started talking to other friends, and they were having similar problems, you know? Like, how is it I got a four in this subject, or a five in this subject, when I studied and knew the answers, and we went and applied grades. That's when we found out it wasn't just an "us" problem, it was a Trinidad problem. But then from there, we found out there was a Caribbean problem. So what I did was I started a movement called #justiceforcape_2020 (https://www.instagram.com/justiceforcape_2020/), in which students from all across the region organized an online protest. So every 15 minutes, we called in to the CXC headquarters, and we demanded answers.
Adrienne MacIain 6:59
Adela Scotland 7:01
Yes. And what transpired was the person in charge, he essentially came out and said he doesn't know what we're talking about, and nothing is wrong, and you know, we just have to deal with it. But we didn't take that, so we started, we decided to take it a step further. And all across the region, again, we had physical protests, in person, you know, and we urged our heads of schools and our ministers of education to help us. The response in that regard has also been minimal. But we understand because basically, CXC is not under the jurisdiction of the different governments, so what it is they can do is very limited. Which is the problem, because it doesn't really matter how wrong it is they are, or how wrong it is we could prove that they are. Actually getting them reprimanded and getting the grades fixed is going to be a challenge that we're not even sure how to go about. And essentially, they had another press conference in which they said that it's not their fault. They called it, in their famous quote, the 'ecosystem of CXC,' that had everybody just like, 'What even is that?' And they proceeded to blame our failures because some children got grades that don't even exist, like sevens and eights. You know, they decided to blame our failures and our teachers for giving us false hopes and expectations in our abilities.
Adrienne MacIain 8:49
Adela Scotland 8:51
Yeah, and that made no sense, because our teachers are accustomed to marking the school-based assessment. They know what to look for, you know, to help us and to guide us. And they've been doing this, some teachers have been doing this for like 20, 30 years. How is it that all of a sudden, they don't know what they're doing? It has to be something happened in your system. And we actually held a regional press conference, in which we brought in an education expert to assess the methodology that they used, and he said that basically by reducing the amount of papers in the exam, what would have resulted would have been grade compression, where students who had high marks end up getting low marks, and in which you have low marks that end up getting high marks, and that's what happened. Just like in Trinidad and Tobago, the school that tops the country, no one ever even heard of it before. It's in some rural village where, you know, like, that does not happen.
Adrienne MacIain 9:54
Adela Scotland 9:54
You know, and they just continue to not try to help, and what frustrates us even more is that if you want to get a grade reviewed, you have to pay 30 US dollars. Right? And some children are genuinely not fortunate enough to afford 30 US dollars. Truly I find that epic. That is a ridiculous cost. And it's not like if it was one subject being reviewed, some children needed all their subjects reviewed. And, you know, we called, we organized another protest, asking them to remove any fees, and they're like, no, they're not going to do that. And then we have to pay. We went after some people, you know, maybe some people were able to pay the $30 USD, and their grades were changed. You know? And they actually had the audacity to say that this year had the best results they have ever seen. You know? Which, when you look at what occurred, that cannot be true.
Adrienne MacIain 11:01
So tell us a little bit more about how these grades affect the rest of your life from here.
Adela Scotland 11:10
Well, I will start with, like, what I've heard, and information I collected from other people, and then I'll tell you how it affected me personally. Because I believe that it is important to people understand how this changed some children's lives forever. So for CAPE, in particular, if you have two years of exams, Unit One and Unit Two. So after Unit One you can apply to university, because you know, based on degrees that you get there, the universities can kind of gauge how you'll perform in Unit Two. So other children who would have applied to universities, would bring Unit One scores, they would have secured scholarships, and even if they didn't get a scholarship, they still would have gotten in to their university of choice. And because CXC, what they did, they delayed our exams, so July-August, which would be when some children are leaving, they didn't have the results before they went. So they were there at the universities, some students that had probably already started taking classes and all that, only to get their Unit Two results and realized that they even failed subjects. And because of that they got kicked out of university, which is horrendous.
Adrienne MacIain 12:24
Adela Scotland 12:26
You know, that must be embarrassing, they must feel so... I can't even imagine how sad and how angry you must feel, especially when it was not your fault.
Adrienne MacIain 12:36
Adela Scotland 12:38
And then on top of that, the people who are actually in a position to do something don't care. We actually, the chairman of CXC actually addressed the issue, saying that he can't do anything about that, and he's sorry that some people's lives had to be ruined, but there isn't anything he can do about it. And that's just life. How can you say something like this when you are representing an organization that is literally responsible for training and molding the future of our entire region?
Adrienne MacIain 13:17
Adela Scotland 13:19
Then what's going to happen now? Let's say, for instance, the student was doing the sciences to get into medical school, and they weren't a high performing student, but because of the algorithm, you know, they would have gotten high grades, right? They got into a really good university, and if by chance they manage to become a doctor, but they're not adept enough to be an efficient doctor, that's the very hands our lives agree to be in, and that's scary. And another thing that would happen, like on the CSEC level, you need to do good in CXC in order to, you have to reapply to your high school, in order to do CAPE. Because here, you can't just go to the high school in your neighborhood, it doesn't work like that. You have to do an exam to get into high school, where the higher the grade you have, the better the school you go to. And especially at the CXC level it's very competitive, because students want to go to the best high school to do CAPE, because the better the school, the higher the chance of you getting a scholarship. So for instance at my school, students who were good children who participated in in tons of extracurricular activity, who actually had an impact on the school, you know, some of whom I would have mentored and stuff, didn't get in to do their CAPE because it was assumed they would have done badly in their subjects, when they didn't! And now they have to go to subpar institutions and get the subpar education, and their whole entire life has been shifted. And another thing, before it was known that this was a regional-wide issue, you know, because of the movement, then I had a lot of students reaching out to me from all over the place, and I had to talk to parents, to actually calm them down, and to tell them it's not their child's fault, don't be upset with their child, because, you know, parents had been furious with their children for doing so poorly in the exams. You know, and I had to tell a lot of parents that it's not their child's fault, and that should never have to be my job. Because I just turned 18 at the time. What am I doing talking to parents from all across the Caribbean?
Adrienne MacIain 15:49
Adela Scotland 15:50
Yeah. And to top that off, because, you know, unfortunately, there are some children who their whole world revolves around schooling and being that top performer. So that would have popped the bubble of lots of children and make them feel to end their life. And then here I was now, having this burden placed on me to make sure that children don't harm themselves, and was like, 'This can't be my responsibility, because what if something happens to the person I'm talking to, etc.?' It was scary. That should have never been my responsibility. And CXC never commented on anything we got in that. Just... how can they be so heartless?
Adrienne MacIain 16:40
Adela Scotland 16:42
For me, in particular, how it has affected me. I mean, I was fortunate enough to get into university with the grades that I got. But I am a bit of a perfectionist, I will admit that seeing twos and threes in my transcript just does not sit right with me. So I signed up to repeat the exams. And the subjects I'm doing, I'm doing sociology, history, literature, geography, and communication studies. That requires a lot of reading. And I have to repeat history, which has one of the heaviest syllabi across the board, you know. I have to repeat sociology, which is also a very intensive subject. But I also have to repeat literature which, in addition to studying three books every year, will also have to learn a lot of critical material. So it's a lot of extra work I now have to put myself through, and it's no fault of my own. There has been no form of justice for the students of the region. And what has happened is, after three months, people have just moved on and forgotten about this. I remember protesting on the tests and people would come up to us and be like, 'Well you should have studied harder, worked harder, you get what you get,' and stuff like that. And it's like, 'That's not the problem.' So understanding what's wrong there, they needed to get accountability.
Adrienne MacIain 18:16
Yeah. So if you were in charge, what would the system be?
Adela Scotland 18:24
What's do you mean by the system? For exams in general? Or for COVID? Or the response?
Adrienne MacIain 18:29
Let's say exams in general. Is this the best system, even when it's not COVID? Let's look at that.
Adela Scotland 18:37
Okay, well, I wouldn't say it's the best system. So let's take, for instance, the school-based assessment: every subject has a component that's the second assignment. So you take it home and you work on it over a prolonged period of time. First of all, there's nothing to suggest you can't just pay someone to do your assignment for you, which is something that happens all the time. You know? And even so, teachers, who would want to have a good track record and stuff, they would spruce up your assignments, you know, they would give liberal marks if they mark it. So that in itself, the validity is already questioned, and something I guess that I struggle with in particular, because I love to write, writing is a passion of mine, so I've become very good at it, and the subjects I do require a lot of writing. So, you know, I would have fun, you know? School shouldn't be a burden all the time. And then my teachers will tell me you can't submit this result, because when the moderator is looking into it they're not going to believe that this is your work. And I'm like, but this is my work! They're like, well, I know that, you know that, but they don't know that, and we can't risk it, so you need to reduce the quality of your assignments. And how is that fair to me?
Adrienne MacIain 20:10
What? That's so messed up!
Adela Scotland 20:13
I've been told that, to tone it down for CXC, that it's too much for people, they claim. Like, I remember one of the research papers I did, the teacher told me after class she was concerned about whether or not it was a good research topic because it's too complex for high school.
Adrienne MacIain 20:34
Wow. So let's say I wave my magic wand, the system is now perfect, it is now ideal. Describe to me what this ideal, perfect school system is like.
Adela Scotland 20:56
The ideal, perfect schools system would be one that doesn't just test your ability based on academics. Because there are some children who can just sit down, study, and be just fine in an exam, for certain, and they would be well. There are other children where that model doesn't fit. I think, to me, the perfect education system would be one in which everyone's abilities are taken into consideration, and there are various ways in which you can be tested, so that even if you're not a traditional learner you still have a chance at passing, finishing school, and with good grades and prospects for the future.
Adrienne MacIain 21:46
So what would that look like exactly? Like, you know, it's exam time - how are we going to assess all these different skills, talents, ways of learning?
Adela Scotland 21:58
Well, I would say, let's take an... can I use, like, one subject as an example?
Adrienne MacIain 22:06
Adela Scotland 22:08
So for instance, literature. Some people, you know, like me, I would prefer to sit down and write an essay. Because for me, I'm able to clarify my thoughts and my thinking and really channel them in ways that make sense. But for other students, especially with the three hours that we're given in order to write, I think it's like three main paragraph essays, you know, that's impossible. And the fact that they don't know the work or the content, it's just that in such a setting, it's very difficult for them to be able to sit down and write. So like, an oral exam it would it be better suited for them, where you have a structured interview, you ask some questions, give them about 10 minutes per question, and let them explain their answers. They'd have a certain format, so maybe they'd need to have keywords, like if you are analyzing a setting, talk about physical setting, historical setting, social setting, and and how it was used in the novel. And if you hit on those points, you would get your marks. Because not everybody can write quickly, not everyone could work well writing under pressure, but you have some students who would be able to verbalize better. You know?
Adrienne MacIain 23:25
Adela Scotland 23:25
So that would be beneficial to them. Even when I did physics, when it came down to sitting down and reading an experiment and learning about the formula, and doing the equations and stuff, that was hard for me because I'm not really a maths person. But I remember in lessons whenever we were learning a new topic, you know, I would... so if we were doing, like, a pendulum and how the pendulum reacts to length, there's formula that we have. But instead of using the formula to record the answer, I would just do the experiment, and I'll get the answer from actually conducting the experiment. And for some people, that's a better, more efficient method. Because I was scratching my skin to even, like, get a mark in physics doing the equations. But if you give me tools to do the experiment, I can explain everything to you, I could get your numeric values for you, I could do everything for you. But sitting down and doing the equation was a bit more challenging. So we need to provide alternative methods. It's not that I didn't read the content, not that I didn't understand the topic, it's just that it was better for me to actually do the experiment to figure this out on my own than I'm just sitting there and I'm calculating it with a formula.
Adrienne MacIain 24:48
Yeah, so basically giving people options.
Adela Scotland 24:51
Adrienne MacIain 24:54
And how would you have handled the COVID situation?
Adela Scotland 24:58
Well, I mean, at the end of the day teachers know their students.
Adrienne MacIain 25:05
Adela Scotland 25:05
And what we did at the regional conference, we compared the teachers projected grades with the grades the children actually got over the years, and most teachers had about 80% accuracy over the years. In some cases, they were at 100% accuracy. All across schools in the Caribbean, we had different principals in different schools come in and give the statistics. But last year, you know, accuracy would have dropped from like 90% to like 40%.
Adrienne MacIain 25:36
Adela Scotland 25:37
But we see that from previous years, teachers know their students.
Adrienne MacIain 25:42
Adela Scotland 25:42
So we would have, I would have liked to see projected grades. Because, well, the statistics show and the teachers know their students, and then you still have your grades from school to look at. And by that time, the school-based assessments would have already been complete. We could have used that to backup the projected grades. There was no reason to make us come out. And the exams, and even this year, and at least last year, we only had one paper. So you had to leave your house, 'cause everyone learns four subjects, very few people would be like me and do five or six. So most people do four subjects, so they would have only had to come out at most four days. But this year, they've given us all the papers, even though in some countries COVID has gotten way worse than it was last year.
Adrienne MacIain 26:38
Adela Scotland 26:40
In fact, in the country where CXC is located, their headquarters, Barbados, their COVID cases this year is significantly worse than it was last year. So it's even more of a threat to them, but they don't care. You know? They don't care.
Adrienne MacIain 26:56
Yeah. So how can people help? Like I'm listening to this in the United States going, oh my gosh, who can I write to? Who can I call? Like, how can we put pressure on these people? Because that's really messed up!
Adela Scotland 27:09
Well, to me, the best way in which you can help is just to talk about this. I think they will believe, you know, we're here in our own Caribbean bubble, and once we forget about it, they get away with it. But if we have people talk about it, and that's, you know, even if they feel just embarrassed by the fact that it's out there now, that would compel them to have to do something about this. So I think that's the best thing to do, just talk about this, you know. You can use actually, we have a hashtag.
Adrienne MacIain 27:44
Yep. I was just gonna ask.
Adela Scotland 27:47
Yeah, it's #justiceforcape_2020. Can I email it to you?
Adrienne MacIain 27:55
Please do. Yeah. Yeah. And I will put that in the show notes.
Adela Scotland 27:59
Okay, well, I will, as soon as they're finished, I'll email all of our hashtags. We have an Instagram, and we have a Facebook. But even if you want to hashtag just on Twitter, that's fine, because children here would see it and move fast to talk about it. It's time to really get an international momentum, because they seem to think that we've forgotten, but we haven't. Just yesterday... was it yesterday, no day before... on Wednesday, in Barbados, the teacher's credit union and some students and parents and such, they had a conference about the issue. And also we have not forgotten about it. But CXC is basically just stopped responding. And I guess they're hoping that they could wear us out and win the fight. But the sad thing is, you know, every day that you wake up, and you go to school, you get reminded of last year, everything that you did, all the hard work you put in was for nothing. That's the truth that we have to live with. For me, in some of my classes, students dropped out, because of that... because that failure deflated them so much that they dropped out. And that's not okay.
Adrienne MacIain 29:18
Education is such a big deal, you know. And I really feel like we could do a better job in most parts of the world, in terms of how we actually engage student's curiosity, and help them genuinely learn, and then help them you know, assess them in a way that is fair and make sense. Because in so many places, we rely on these tests that are very biased, and that if you can afford to have a tutor or take specific classes in the testing, then you can do very well at the tests, but that isn't necessarily a great reflection of your overall intelligence.
Adela Scotland 30:00
Yes, that is very true. You know, that's true. I agree with that statement, because I would be... when I went to lessons in physics, I went to two lessons places. The first one would have been I guess your middle class, lower class students attending that lesson. And the resources they had compared to the second place that I went to, where it would have been upper class children was night and day. I mean, I was glad I transferred because the second lessons place resources were much better. The teacher had notes and booklets printed out, the implements, the technology in the classroom. So if you had a question, you know, some students would be embarrassed, so if they had to ask a question, you messaged him and he replies to you and helps you out and stuff. I mean, the difference in what we were doing was drastic and the only thing that changed is where I was getting help. You know?
Adrienne MacIain 31:06
Yeah. So what would you say to students who are listening to this right now and are feeling really discouraged, really frustrated, and like things are not fair. What would you say to them right now?
Adela Scotland 31:21
Well, I would say that I completely understand you and see where you're coming from. I understand what it is you're feeling and why. Two things that I could say to you: The first one is just, as cheesy as it is, don't give up hope, because in all actuality, everything that happens has a reason, even if you can see it now, you know the reason will show itself when the time is right. You know, you just have to find little things in every day to make you happy. To not make you feel so overburdened and struggling all the time. You know? Like for me, it's, at the end of the day when you get to watch TV, that's something to look forward to. Or you get to take a long hot shower. You just need to find ways to encourage yourself.
Adrienne MacIain 32:19
It's the little things, right?
Adela Scotland 32:21
Yeah, it really is. And another thing is, pick up a hobby! Hobbies are great, maybe there's a hobby that you can make money off of, like learn how to bake, learn how to do meals, learn to do hair, you know. There's so many other things that you can do separately from school. So remember I told you a lot of kids dropped out. But they didn't drop out and stay home, they dropped out and they opened businesses, you know? Many people who started selling juice, many people who started doing hair, who started doing nails, who started doing makeup, who started catering. You have to expand your thoughts, so even if one one avenue fails, you have something else you can rely on. It's not the end all be all; it should ever be.
Adrienne MacIain 33:16
Yeah, absolutely. Give your gifts. Start finding ways that you can create value for other people and for the world, whether or not that is specifically in line with your ultimate goals, just start doing something and you will find that the universe kind of catches you when you leap.
Adela Scotland 33:37
Adrienne MacIain 33:38
Yeah. As Zig Ziglar said, Give enough people what they want and you will get what you want.
Adela Scotland 33:46
Yeah, exactly that.
Adrienne MacIain 33:48
Well, thank you so much for joining me today. Can you...
Adela Scotland 33:51
Thank you for having me.
Adrienne MacIain 33:53
Can you give people where they can find you and then one last thought that you want to make sure that they walk away with?
Adela Scotland 34:00
Alright, well you can find me... I'm not a social media person, I actually only got in to social media because I started an online campaign, you know. So you can find me on Instagram. My name is infinite_adela.
Adrienne MacIain 34:31
Okay. And one last thought that you really want people to walk away with today.
Adela Scotland 34:39
We're talking about education, obviously, how that impacts on your life. You know, I actually am quite fond of Shakespeare, so here's a quote by Shakespeare, where he felt that the purpose of life is to find your gift, but the meaning of life is to give it away.
Adrienne MacIain 34:58
Absolutely. I love that. Thank you so much.
Adela Scotland 35:02
Thank you, have a good day.
Adrienne MacIain 35:04
Transcribed by Rebecca MacIain