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On to a new school year: some thoughts

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Another school cycle starts next week; anxious students entering school for the first time, older ones glad to renew acquaintances with friends, students entering their year of final examinations, parents excited and proud and teachers meeting their new classes and doing a preliminary mental assessment of their new charges. A few weeks ago, we were all excited about the results of the CPEA, CSEC AND CAPE examinations. We identified and applauded the high achievers and the schools that produced excellent performances.

A quick glance at the results show: for CSEC, five schools had pass rates of 80 per cent or more. Of those, the Girls’ High School had 95.56 per cent passes and the St Joseph’s Convent, Kingstown 90.64. The other schools were the St Vincent Grammar School, the Thomas Saunders Secondary and St Martin’s. Ten schools had pass rates of between 60 and 80 per cent. For CAPE, 553 candidates from the Community College did 1,877 examinations in 21 subject areas. To select a few subject areas – for Applied Maths, the two students taking it secured passes; in Communication Studies, 283 passed out of 286; pure Maths, 42 of 94 candidates! Several questions arise. We know that 15 of 26 secondary schools got above 60 per cent passes, but nothing about the other 11 schools. It must be noted, too, that one student in the CSEC exams got 19 passes, with 18 Grade 1s and one Grade 2 (a student from the GHS); three obtained 13 passes, four obtained 12 and 31, 11 passes.

The emphasis was on the percentage passes, with little said about the grades. The Ministry, however, appeared cognizant of the fact that “outcomes in education are measured, not only in quantitative terms, but also in qualitative terms.” While it applauded all performers, particularly the top performers, it did refer to “those whose performance can be improved.”

Let us hope that in their review special attention will be paid to the 11 schools that fell below 60 per cent. Knowing the overall results is one thing, but hopefully areas that need urgent attention will be identified and worked on. In 2016, there were 12.3 per cent grade 1 passes, 28.52 grade 2s and 33.84 grade 3s. In 2017, there was a falling off with 11.40 grade 1s, 27.33 grade 2s. The grade 3 passes in 2017 were actually higher than those in 2016. The margin of difference is small, but the question to be asked is, what went wrong this year?

I have always been concerned about the number of subjects students are allowed to do for the CSEC exams. Clearly, a few students are quite capable of handling them; but what is the point of this? How does this benefit the student? In Guyana, one student who had 24 grade 1s from 25 subjects said that he “decided to attempt a large number of subjects for fun.” This is certainly not a fun exercise. The Guyanese government is apparently making plans to limit the number of subjects any student can take. I hope we will also look carefully at this. I am suggesting tracer studies, comparing performances of students at CAPE with their CSEC results. We can perhaps learn a lot from that exercise.

There is need for serious public conversation on education (definitely not along partisan political lines). Our human capital is our most significant resource and we have to ensure as we monitor the education system that no child is left behind. Does the Ministry have a well-staffed research section that will identify the areas that need to be carefully examined? Hopefully, policies critical to the country’s development will be informed by this research. The revolution is yet to start! 

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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