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Anglican Church cites possible ‘abuse’ in school survey debacle

October 9, 2022

The following is a statement from the Diocesan Bishop in Barbados, The Right Reverend Michael Maxwell regarding the controversial survey administered to more than 700 first form students at five secondary schools in Barbados under the Code Caribbean Project sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), that was revealed to contain inappropriate questions to obtain personal information about students and their families.

Yesterday, Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney categorically apologized to students, parents, teachers, principals and the general public over the survey at a press conference, which came after IDB’s apology last week. 

An earlier explanation from Chief Education Officer, Dr. Ramona Archer-Bradshaw indicated that consultants hired by IDB to execute the project in Barbados had failed to remove the unsuitable questions from the survey-type pre-test to a computer science assessment, even after Ministry of Education officials spotted the unfit questions and had asked for them to be deleted before the survey was administered: 
Statement from the Diocesan Bishop in Barbados, The Right Reverend Michael Maxwell

The Anglican Church is deeply concerned about the intent and effect of the test, reportedly administered to some secondary school students in Barbados on Monday, October 3, 2022.  While it has been described as a “computer science pre-test”, some of the questions reported in the press and on social media, seem to go beyond standard demographic information. Best practice demands that the testing of ‘human subjects’, especially minors, should always be subjected to oversight by an ethics body, responsible to ensure that unintended harm is not done. In this case, it may be asserted that harm was done, both in the present and the future.  

In an effort to constructively address the situation which involves a very important demographic within our society, that of our children, and ensure that there is never a repeat of an incident of this nature, the Church is concerned about and highlights the following matters:

  • Legally, ethically and practically parents should have been informed and consent sought, so that families would have had the choice to opt out of such an exercise. This is particularly important because in an age of data privacy concerns, based on what has been reported so far, the information gleaned seems deeply personal and sensitive; and could have potentially been used against participants as it is yet unclear as to who would have been the owners of the data and if the Government had secured any legal assurances from the administrators of the test as to what will be any and all future use of the information sourced.
  • Since this matter has now become public and students now have a greater awareness of the potential harm to themselves, the following questions need to be raised and addressed:
  1. Why was the test not reviewed by a ministry official before administration, given reported initial objections to a number of areas?
  2. Will the test be administered to other children with the removal of the ‘questionable’ items, and if so, what is the ultimate validity and robust nature of the results?
  3. Does the Ministry of Education have a standing ethics body responsible for creating guidelines and/or oversight for the testing of all students under their care? and 
  4. What provision will be made for the mental health care of the participants who have been adversely affected by their participation in the survey and who will finance this treatment.

This matter, in our view, goes beyond an issue of the questions being “offensive” and may very well be described as an act of abuse. Either the trust reposed by the Ministry in the test provider, or by parents in the Ministry, was abused, and the rendering of an apology ought not to be the final resolution to this matter. Children represent the most precious gift and resource to the nation and our families. They must be protected. When they are handed off by parents into the care of educators, care-givers, the church, we must all understand that we stand in “loco parentis” and must therefore do everything within our power to protect them, physically, mentally and socially from harm and danger.    

In most developed countries, this matter would immediately, and most assuredly, result in legal action. The euphemism, “underrepresented groups” cannot be license to negatively impact vulnerable persons; most of all our precious minor children. They should never be viewed by anyone as merely research objects but gifts from God, intended to be the subjects of greatest concern, care, affection and positive regard; “…they are precious in [God’s] sight, [for He] loves the little children of the world”.

Note: Some issues raised by the Diocesan Bishop in Barbados, The Right Reverend Michael Maxwell were addressed by Minister of Education Kay McConney at yesterday’s press conference:

Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney says an Ethics Committee will be set up to oversee further school surveys in Barbados.

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