Trends in higher education within the Caribbean show an overall increase in enrollment in many of the countries. These are truly remarkable statistics for tertiary education in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). For many current (and former) students in the Caribbean enrolling in higher education, their path to success likely started by completing the exam for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), issued by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). This credential is administered in 16 different countries, and it grants access to applying for most colleges and universities in every CARICOM country—and beyond. Institutions in the Caribbean have different acceptance policies regarding the CSEC (many institutions accept passes in a total of five subjects).
In addition to the CSEC, there is also the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE). This exam is taken roughly two years after completing the CSEC. These exams are considered, by many institutions, to be equivalent to up to one year of undergraduate coursework. The CAPE is typically a requirement for more advanced or professional higher education programs, such as the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) program. The CXC is now a mainstay in Caribbean education. For some, it might be hard to imagine what it was like without the CXC.
Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados gained independence from Great Britain during the 1960s, and many other nations gradually gained their independence throughout the 1970s. The countries had become independent from the British Crown, but their education systems remained largely dependent on English institutions. Secondary schools would teach students the locally accredited curriculum until the end of the 11th year, where students would have the option to sit in for the General Certificate of Education - Ordinary level (GCE-O) examination. This exam was the standard British secondary leaving credential at the time.
If students wanted to apply for more prestigious or professional higher education, they would continue for an additional two years to complete their Advanced level (GCE-A) examination. Exams were administered by the University of London, Oxford University, the University of Cambridge, and/or the Associated Examining Board (which is now a part of AQA).
The CXC was founded in 1972, when representatives from the 15 British-patterned CARICOM nations met in Barbados to sign the Agreement to establish the Council. 14 of them signed the Agreement. The next year, the CXC had its main offices established in Jamaica. For Jamaica, in particular, the CXC was intended to replace the Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. Replacing British exam boards was likely the same motivation for the other CARICOM nations that joined. Even though the Council was enacted in 1973, examinations would not be administered until 1979. The first CSEC exams consisted of the subjects of English, Geography, History, Mathematics, and a pilot subject for Integrated Sciences was also offered. 13 of the 14 countries had candidates for the examinations that year, and the overall number of candidates who entered was in the tens of thousands.
Although the CXC exams were taking off in the Caribbean, there was still the process of getting higher education institutions to accept the applications of students who completed these exams. The next year, in 1980, several universities and international admissions boards had considered the I and II Grades for the CXC exam equivalent to the GCE-O A, B, and C grades. This meant that students who completed the CSEC exam and CAPE could use their exam results to get into more recognized institutions without significant issues.
From there, the CXC and its potential only grew. More and more examination subjects have been added over the decades since the first CSEC exam. In 1998, the CAPE exam was first being offered. The number of successful candidates is only growing. In 2018, the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information (MOEY) in Jamaica found that there was a 3.8% increase in students passing the CSEC compared to 2017. In Grenada, students are passing the GSEC exam at an increasing rate per year since 2018.
The CXC is thriving in the digital age, offering a variety of online services that makes accessing results much easier for students. At this rate, it is likely that the CXC will continue to offer new subjects for students as time goes on. It is uncertain just what subjects would be added, but the notion of adding more is evident from the history that the Council. Education institutions from all over the world accept CXC exams for admission into undergraduate programs. Credential evaluation agencies, including Scholaro, recognize CXC documents as the official credentials for evaluating upper secondary education from the CARICOM nations.