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Education in focus – some issues

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At this time of year, the focus is on education, with the results of the different examinations now known and with students returning to school or attending for the first time. There is, perhaps, more than at any other time, an appreciation of the importance of education.{{more}}

As the competition for jobs grows, parents are prepared to invest what they are able to in their children’s education at all levels. The media focuses on the top performers at examinations, that is schools and individuals. This is understandable, but we must not forget those who are left behind and schools and the Education Department have to constantly examine the factors leading to underperformance. I am struck by the number of subjects that some students are doing. Clearly, in a number of cases their results have been impressive and they demonstrated that they were capable of handling them. I imagine that in most cases this will be left to only a gifted few. The principal of the GHS saw this as widening the breadth of knowledge of the students. This might be so, but only to a narrow extent, for one can imagine the demands on the students’ time just to prepare for a large number of examination subjects. That certainly is where the emphasis has been put.

In its editorial of August 26, the Vincentian saw it differently: “Given the present emphasis on passing examinations, serious attention must be paid to broadening the outlook of students and giving it a more holistic character.” It mentioned some issues, among them, national identity and consciousness, which it says are “critical to that rounded outlook. The schools’ curriculum and educational experience must encapsulate these.” This is where the contradiction in the system arises, because teachers and students are so fully occupied with completing the examination syllabuses that there is little space to move outside of that. Now I am generalizing here, for some schools are probably better equipped to do this than others and some students are better positioned to do this if there is a home environment that facilitates it.

The Searchlight, in one of its editorials, called for a national discussion on CSEC performance, but there are a number of areas that need careful attention because, of course, education goes beyond examination results. Education has to have some relationship with national development and priorities that form a place on the country’s national agenda should be fed into the education system and influence, for instance, areas in which scholarships are given. Related to this are, of course, the factors that determine choices for further education. While national development should be borne in mind, there has also to be a realization that we live in a global village and students must be able to explore their areas of interest. The tendency quite often, however, is to go along with what is popular. I am not sure about the kind of system that is in place to assist students in determining the areas they get into.

Have any tracer studies been done relating passes at the CSEC level with CAPE results? The transition from secondary to community college education is a trying one and efforts have to be made to assist the students making that shift. It becomes so easy to go astray. The ‘freedom’ given to the student after the rigours and demands of secondary school is often mishandled. One gets the impression that some students don’t want to be there, or have perhaps gotten into areas that they never wanted, but which their examination results might have dictated.

Although at CSEC there has been a big jump in the Math and English results, these have to be carefully monitored, because they are core subjects necessary at all levels. The areas of critical thinking and problem solving are areas that are fundamental to any advancement in education, but these areas are still underdeveloped. We have always to bear in mind that education today involves the passage from cradle to grave, so with this, students have to be equipped with the ability to continue learning beyond school and even to unlearn what they had learnt before. Many of the things taught at school become outdated once the student gets out of the school door.

My other area of concern is ‘pre-school’ education. This is an area that demands a lot of attention. Having looked at the progress of one of my grands through ‘pre-school’, I have developed an appreciation of its value. Students at that level see learning as fun, although the transformation to primary school, still in some cases with archaic methods of teaching, often destroys that. We have to bear in mind too, that there are still many parents and guardians not in a position to give the help so needed at an early age.

I am raising all of these to make the point that if education is to be used as a tool of national development, we have to move beyond examination results and look at the total system, since we live in a fast changing world. We cannot limit our discussion to CSEC. The discussion has to involve all areas of education, since we see it as critical to national development. This, of course, will have to involve parents and students.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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