Good news in education, but...

Monday, June 12, 2017

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News that, with the exception of one subject, Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) scores for 2017 showed “notable improvement” over last year is very pleasing.

We are told that Mathematics, which has previously been on the decline, moved up 4.2 percentage points to 62.4 per cent; Language Arts moved up 4.4 percentage points to 72.8 per cent; Communication Task moved 4.2 percentage points to 76.2 per cent; and Social Studies went from 68.9 per cent in 2016 to 70.6 per cent this year.

The lone decliner was Science. That subject had incremental increases in student performance from 2014 to 2016, but declined 4.5 percentage points this year, from 69.2 per cent to 64.7 per cent.

The education minister, Senator Ruel Reid, told journalists at a press conference late last week that while students' knowledge of concepts was particularly high, it fell when they were asked to analyse or apply deductive reasoning.

According to the Ministry of Education, 99 per cent of students who sat GSAT have been placed in high schools, as opposed to all-age and junior high schools.

Said Senator Reid: “The number placed in primary and junior high schools has been reduced from 1,051 in 2016 to 568 in 2017… This represents a reduction of 46 per cent over the previous year's placement [and] is a result of the Ministry of Education's thrust to phase out all-age and junior high schools.”

As this newspaper understands it, GSAT itself is facing the exit door. It is scheduled to be replaced by the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) in the academic year 2018/2019.

As explained by chief education officer in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean at a Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange last year, the PEP will be aligned to the ministry's National Standards Curriculum.

Dr McLean said then, “It will be focusing more on higher-order thinking, so the students will get an opportunity to review, to synthesise, to evaluate and to apply the knowledge that they would have learnt during the period”.

The PEP will involve continuous assessment so that in Grade Four, children “will actually be doing assignments that will contribute to the overall grade that they will be receiving at the end of grade six”, Dr McLean explained.

Hopefully too, ways will be found to make PEP far less of a load on children as they prepare for high school. Among the criticisms of GSAT has been the emotional trauma from which some are said never to recover as they strive to get into the “better high schools”.

The truth though is that this pressure from parents and primary school teachers to get their children into certain high schools, as against others, will continue for as long there is the reality, or perception, of extreme imbalance and inequality regarding the quality of high school education.

The push to do away with the shift system will help. When that system was introduced in the 1970s it was intended as a stopgap measure, pending the build-out of required classroom space. That the shift system still exists is testament to the snail's pace nature of socio-economic growth in Jamaica.

But even with the additional classroom space must come the very costly, modern, properly equipped laboratory facilities and other necessary infrastructure as well as appropriately trained teachers that will make parents feel relatively comfortable about their children's education regardless of school.

The road ahead is by no means easy.




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