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Understanding our CSEC Math results

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Tue, Aug 28, 2012

Editor: As if many persons were waiting to say “Aha! Ah tell you so, the NDP teachers should be re-appointed,’ the dismal performance by our students in the mathematics CSEC exams was quickly used by uninformed commentators to traduce the ULP’s education policy. Further, it is overly cynical that many of these protagonists hijacked such a critical debate in order to score cheap political points at the expense of our students.{{more}}

The truth is that mathematics has always been one of the weaker subject areas for students. Can you remember your own days at primary or secondary school? There seems to be a residual fear passed down from generation to generation about the difficulty of this subject. Let us not fool ourselves; even those students who have produced excellent results will also tell you that the subject is a complex one that requires much hard-work, practice and application. In the NDP-led period of government, there was a mathematics problem and it continues today. On the one hand, we have gained many individual successes but overall have seen a steady decline in performance.

To put the results in context, according to data released by CXC, “this year, 33 per cent of the entries for Mathematics achieved Grades 1-III, which are the acceptable grades at CSEC. This is a further decline in performance when compared with the last two years. In 2011, 35 per cent earned similar grades and in 2010 the figure stood at 41 per cent.” Moreover, you should consider further these headlines: the Jamaica Gleaner carried a story this week “Maths Crisis”, Trinidad Newsday was headlined with, ‘Maths failings’ and the Antigua Observer, ‘ Parents, teachers blamed for low CSEC passes”, just to list a few.

The problems with our CSEC results are not ones which St Vincent and the Grenadines alone can address. There are many factors that influence results and if finger pointing is going to be the order of things, then blame must be proportionately and fairly shared. Of course, there cannot be enough qualified and experienced teachers in our school system; teachers and students cannot be faced with a lack of resources; parents cannot continue to send their children to our education centre legally under-nourished; and our students have to rise to the challenges of lack.

To address the problem, the CXC has announced that it is going to set up a body to examine the region’s weakness in the critical mathematics subject area. In 2012, our methods of teaching and studying have been relatively unchanged. If we can only change the perception of our students through creativity and innovation to peak their interest in remaining dedicated to their studies over their five- year program, then maybe our annual problems may decline. The scholarship program once offered to teachers to pursue studies in the sciences has to be re- pursued and Internet programs like “Vincy classroom” must be lauded and expanded.

In the USA, faced with the same difficulty, President Barack Obama launched an “Educate to innovate” campaign which, according to the White House press office, is a “nationwide effort to help reach the administration’s goal of moving American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.” If we are to arrest this situation, we too must lift our game from slinging mud at the professional female leadership at the education department. The battle cry cannot be one of “plywood schools, red teachers and yellow teachers, President of the Teachers Union and the like”. Last Saturday, on the Global Highlights radio program, lawyer and political commentator Dr Kenneth John, in tracing the history of our political system, theorized that “nothing separated the political parties here in SVG, so we developed a system that addressed personalities.” However, now is a time for serious debate.

However, the debate cannot be one of retreating from our education revolution. Today, unlike hitherto, we are at every end of the globe excelling in large numbers. So, in an effort not to leave any child behind, we also cannot leave our teachers behind. There is no doubt in my mind that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is by far the ‘Education Prime Minister of our country and the region.’ Just last week, a friend who was surprised by the personal intervention of the PM to support his educational goals, told me a story that characterized the PM in the non-partisan way that he has always addressed education. Today, he is on his way to fulfilling his potential. So too, a few years ago, the PM personally advised me to forget the ‘politics of today’ because it is here to stay, but to first chase after my educational pursuits.

It is in this respect and love for the PM that I also advise, please PM, forget the ‘politics of today’ and continue to give the children of our country the chance of tomorrow. I support the call for the re-instatement of the NDP teachers, not only as part of any reconciliation initiative, but for the collective good of our nation.

Adaiah J Providence-Culzac
[email protected]

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