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Those education percentages

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Tue, Sept 18, 2012

Editor: If one of the main goals of our education system is to educate ALL our students for living and production, then I wish to comment on just how the current performance measurement of “overall

percentage passes” for the range of subjects offered by each school actually contributes to the attainment of this national goal.{{more}}

The assumption is of course that percentage passes is a measure of the students passing to the students actually sitting the exams. If, therefore, a school is rated and judged by its percentage passes, then, it is not difficult to understand why in the past, schools and their teachers have tended to filter out the doubtful and weaker students in each subject at the Form 4 level and to send on ONLY the residual group of top performers to sit the exams.

While the attainment of these high percentage passes in the different subject areas gets the school and its teachers honourable mention and national prominence, there must be some concern that there might just be a disconnect between school objectives and national goals.

At the Grammar School, just a few years ago, only students attaining 72 per cent or higher in integrated science at Form 3 were placed in the science stream to sit the combination of physics, chemistry and biology. This actually represented just 25 per cent of that entire Form 3.

While this decision would have resulted in excess of 90 per cent passes for the school in those science subjects, the school would have denied the residual group of Form 3 students who scored between 55 and 72 per cent the opportunity of a science and technology-based career. It would also be contributing to the increasing shortage of qualified and available science teachers in the future, which incidentally was also put forward as the reason for the streaming of only 25 per cent.

Why science and technology? Well, everyone is acutely aware that every workplace is now heavily dependent on technology and requires an increasing variety of technological skills to operate, manage and maintain gadgets, plant, equipment and hardware. Many of these skills often-times have to be imported, while significant and costly downtime has to be endured.

Further, companies like Mustique Company, the big hotel resorts, VINLEC, the Brewery, ECGC, CWSA, Solid Waste Management, BRAGSA, airports and seaports, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and architectural, engineering and surveying firms all have an ever increasing demand for many technicians with at least a CXC knowledge and certification in biology, physics, chemistry and math.

If we are really about educating and training our workforce to serve our country better, now and in the future, then we are going need much more than 25 per cent of our youngsters being placed in the science and technology stream. In fact the short to medium term objective of all secondary schools should be mandated by the Ministry of Education as increasing the actual numbers of science graduates from their respective schools by X percentage.

There is also the reality that not all of the holders of these CXC science subjects will move on to the traditional careers in architecture, medicine and engineering. The emerging technological advances have now significantly increased the opportunities for young science graduates to pursue different pathways to several new technical and scientific specialties and jobs.

We can also use the education percentages to evaluate the relatively poor returns in math and English when compared to other subjects. First of all, since both math and English have gradually become compulsory subjects for all schools, we should have expected the percentage passes in those subjects to drop significantly when compared to the other subjects. The reason for this is simply that, unlike the other subjects where only the top and capable students are sent on to write the exams, all students, both strong and weak are sent on to write English and math. The percentage of failures is sure to increase, at least in the short term.

We can also be assured that if physics were suddenly made a compulsory subject, with no opportunity for streaming, the 100 per cent passes achieved by the GHS in physics could easily decline to 50 per cent or lower. The problem with relying on percentage passes in light of the present system of screening is that it gives a false impression of excellence in a particular subject and also deprives the slower learners of the opportunity to develop the required proficiency in the area of their choice.

So, we need not be too hard on the relatively low percentage passes in math and English at this stage, if only because we are in the midst of an adjustment, where we are now attempting to expose ALL of our students to math and english at the CXC level. It would also be much more beneficial for the country if schools were to actually risk giving up a few percentage points in their per cent passes, in the hope of graduating greater numbers of math and science students.

This does not, however, mean that we should continue to accept the declining percentages in math and English passes. At some point, we must establish a floor and then seek to build and improve. We must use the percentages to evaluate the intake at the respective schools and quality and consistency of the instruction available, relative to both the syllabus and the regional examinations. There will be no overnight fix.

G E M Saunders

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