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Full analysis of CSEC results necessary

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Tue, Aug 21, 2012

An interesting discussion is currently taking place in the region about just what is responsible for the decline in pass rates in English A and Mathematics in the May/June 2012 CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Examinations (CSEC),{{more}} compared with previous years.

While the percentage of students across the region achieving grades one to three in Math fell from 35 per cent last year, and 41 per cent in 2010, to 33 per cent this year, the decline in English A is more alarming. Only 47 per cent of our students across the region achieved passing grades this year, compared with 67 per cent last year.

The regional situation in English A was mirrored in Jamaica where, according to figures released by that country’s Ministry of Education, only 46.2 per cent of the students passed English A, a significant drop when compared with a pass rate of 63.9 per cent last year, and 64.9 per cent in 2010. The Ministry of Education in St Lucia also said that the pass rate in Math this year is 29.89 percent, and that performances in Math and English A left much to be desired. The Ministry of Education here has not released the performance breakdown by subject area for 2012; however, it is reasonable to assume that we are not exceptions to the regional trend.

We endorse the call by Minister of Education in Guyana Priya Manickchand, who called on Caribbean countries to deal “frontally” with the poor grades recorded in Mathematics and English A. She said that regional governments must not shy away from the results in order to deny the various opposition parties ammunition.

The results in Jamaica have prompted authorities there to ask CXC to provide an explanation. One principal in Jamaica has even gone as far as to request a probe into CXC, questioning whether CXC made changes to its marking schemes in response to criticisms that its examinations had got easier over recent years.

Speaking in Guyana at last week’s official presentation of the CSEC results for this academic year, CXC Registrar Dr Didacus Jules hit back, saying the blame game is counter-productive and solving the problem requires a partnership of the whole society. We agree. All stakeholders need to be aware of just what the situation is here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, if we are to come up with solutions.

In his presentation, Dr Jules, however, pointed to what he saw as some of the reasons for the less than acceptable performance of our students. He said our classrooms are boring, as we have digital children sitting in classrooms where chalk and talk are still being employed. He urged teachers to make learning fun, saying the technologies of play must become technologies of learning. He also pointed to the lack of preparation on the part of some teachers, who he said have never thorougly read the syllabus, or only teach the sections they are most comfortable with. These are serious accusations which the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union needs to address with its members. In fact, in Jamaica, the situation is so worrying for teachers that two of the main teachers’ associations, the Jamaica Teachers Association and the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, will soon be meeting to discuss the matter.

This is not to imply that students bear no responsibilty for their results. Senior Assistant Registrar for Examinations Development and Production Division Dr Gordon Harewood, speaking at the same meeting in Guyana, pointed out a weakness in how our students express themselves. He said they need to read a lot more, not just the type of reading they do on Facebook, but rather, they should read good classical literature or even modern literature such as the Harry Potter series, which he cited as an example of excellent writing. He made the point that many of the English Literature classics are now available free for the Kindle.

We normally only read about the highflyers in the newspapers, but a significant percentage of our children are not achieving acceptable levels in the CSEC exams. We call on the Ministry of Education to release a full analysis of the national performance in the CSEC so that stakeholders can critically assess where we stand and begin to work to improve the situation. As the Guyana education minister said last week, “The education of our boys and girls should never be politicised. Bad results must be owned by all; good results and the efforts to get there promoted, owned and celebrated by all.”

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