FOR as long as any of us can remember, educators in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean have been embarrassed, from time to time, by relatively low student pass rates in mathematics and English language.
The current furore involving the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is clearly related to expectations from all side that results should be improving and not declining — certainly not to the extent that it has this year.
Mathematics, as we all know, forms the basis for advancement in science and technology. Imparting the knowledge has been hindered by a fear of the subject area, not only among students but also, it would seem, among some teachers. Also, it would seem, many teachers struggle to help their students make the link between mathematical formulae and everyday life.
For those who have dedicated themselves to improving the communication of mathematics — the latest data showing CXC Mathematics passes among Jamaican students fell to 31.7 per cent this year from 33.2 per cent last year, and 39.5 per cent in 2010 — this must be a source of extreme disappointment and pain.
If anything, English language minders must be even more dismayed. We are told that Ministry of Education figures show 46.2 per cent of students passed English Language this year, down from 63.9 per cent last year, and 64.9 per cent in 2010.
Amidst the blame game as it relates to English, we suspect there will be those ready to identify the Jamaican dialect as a main reason for the poor results.
However, this newspaper believes serious thought should be given to the input of senior assistant registrar at CXC, Dr Gordon Harewood, who according to yesterday’s edition of the Sunday Observer, linked poor results to a falling away of the reading habit.
"Students have to read a lot more. You can't spend every evening on Facebook chatting, you've got to pick up a book or an e-book," Dr Harewood said.
How many of us, we wonder, even know for sure what an e-book (electronic book) is? Fortunately, the younger ones will know.
It seems to us that Dr Harewood has touched on a key factor that is very directly impacting education and language as we know it. We speak of the rapidly evolving communication technologies. ‘Texting’, so important for our young people, in particular, now seems to be creating a language all of its own.
Just a couple of decades ago before the onset of cable TV, the Internet, cellphones and computer tablets, many of us entertained ourselves by reading “a good book”. Some of us became ‘bookworms’. We learnt to write English well largely because we hungrily read Dickens, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Mais, et al.
We have no numbers to back this up, but we suspect that “bookworms” are now rarely to be found in our schools. Caught up in mindboggling computer games, social media and television, far too many of our children have no time for old-fashioned, paper-based or even e-books.
As we seek to find solutions, it seems to us that those in charge of education in our schools, at the various ministries of education regionwide and at CXC need to seriously assess the impact on our children of the growing, changing technologies. Crucially, they should always be proactively contemplating how best to use emerging technologies to assist education.
History teaches that technology will not be curtailed or reversed, but if we are smart, we can use it to serve desired ends.