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October 12, 2022
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October 12, 2022

Concerns over Barbados pre-test survey for children

“It should not have happened…you don’t do that with young children without parental consent.”

This was the view of clinical psychologist Alicia Hoyte in response to the “pre-test survey” administered on October 3 at five secondary schools in Barbados.

She was speaking at the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission’s (AFLC) Health and Family Life Education parenting series today Wednesday, October 12, on Facebook live which dealt with the pre-test survey distributed in Barbados and the impact it can have on family life and parenting. The host was Episcopal Delegate for Family Life Tricia Syms.

The “pre-test on Computer Science” administered by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has caused a furor in Barbados. At a press briefing October 8, Chief Education Officer, Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw said the test was intended to assess the competencies of First Form students in reading, mathematics, and logic.

The offending questions of a psycho-social nature included if they drank alcohol without parents’ approval, deliberately tried to hurt or kill themselves, hear sounds or voices that other people think aren’t there, thought about suicide, sex, wished they were of the opposite sex.

Parents were not informed about the questions to be asked. Hoyte said it was “deeply troubling” that the survey was done without parental consent. “That’s not a way of doing things I am familiar with at all,” she said.

She shared her experience of doing educational assessments and psycho-educational assessments. “You may have a psycho-social questionnaire like that but for that to be administered to any child, it is because the parents had agreed I am bringing my child for this evaluative service; I understand my child will be asked things like this; I understand that my child’s information will be kept confidential; I will be given the results of the testing; we will discuss it; I am assured it is for my child’s well-being.”

The IDB and Education Minister have since apologised. In a statement on October 6, the IDB expressed regret for the test stating “no offence was intended”. It revealed that the “questions at the centre of concern” were to be omitted from the questionnaire as per objection raised by the Ministry but were “inadvertently left in the paper”.

For the parent who was unprepared and did not agree to the questions, the pre-test would seem “sinister”. Hoyte said in a school setting the Form 1-2 pupil will comply with requests because the child will have an “intrinsic trust” that the adults are asking questions in their best interest. She added that they are at the age of wanting to follow what their peers are doing.

“This is why parental consent is necessary because a child is vulnerable, a child is trusting. They will do what is asked of them. Even if the questions make them uncomfortable or they are uncertain, they will follow through with it,” Hoyte added. The child with a good relationship with his/her parent will share their discomfort with the questions.

Hoyte said the question had to be where the information was going as children’s names and addresses were noted. “What is it being used for; what is the outcome of this survey? That will be profoundly unnerving for a parent, and it is wrong.”

Barbados Minister of Education Kay McConney has said all papers were collected and are being stored in a vault on premises controlled by the government. Parents of children have called for test papers to be given to them.

Hoyte said the questionnaire was “unfortunate”. While parents can be portrayed as wanting to hide their children from things, she stressed that it was for parents to decide “when and how” their children are engaged in certain conversations or discussion on personal issues.

She said parents have a right to give consent and the events in Barbados was now forcing parents to accept the responsibility to educate their children about sex, sexuality, and identity.

“Maybe we need to be doing it more than we have been, and take up our responsibility as parents,” Hoyte suggested. If there were concerns about parents not doing their part, then support should be given. “Don’t sideline them. That is what it felt like.”