Careers & Education

Henry-Wilson warns against hasty response to low CSEC results

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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FORMER Minister of Education Maxine Henry-Wilson has cautioned against any hasty change of policy triggered by the poor examination results announced by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) earlier this month.

Henry-Wilson, who heads the newly formed Tertiary Education Commission, said the reasons behind the poor Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results should be studied carefully before any adjustment in policy is made.

"One of the reasons why we have what I would call a Gordian Knot in terms of policy is that as soon as something happens, we do a knee-jerk and change what is there. It is well known that curriculum changes take some time to be rooted. So the question becomes, why is there a decline rather than changing direction and going somewhere else? If you do that, the upshot is that you have two or three different programmes existing side by side, many of which are contradictory," she said.

The results of the CSEC exams sat in May and June showed a huge decline in passes in English language, from 67 per cent last year to 47 per cent this year.

Passing grades in mathematics also fell to 33 per cent this year from 35 per cent last year and 41 per cent in 2010.

In response, CXC registrar Dr Didacus Jules announced the establishment of a working group to recommend changes to the teaching, learning and assessment of math.

The CXC also reported improvements in only nine out of the 34 CSEC subjects, a fall in performance in 19 subjects while things remained the same as last year in six subjects.

Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites along with experts from the universities and teachers' colleges met with the CXC secretariat last Thursday, in an effort to understand the results and address the problem.

Also commenting on the poor CSEC results, Dr Ann Lopez, lecturer in education at the University of Toronto, called for more dialogue on the use of the Jamaican language (patois) in the learning process.

"A conversation we must have in Jamaica is how are we going to value patois in our learning. Maybe it's time to think about how to engage them [students] when English is not their first language," said the Jamaican-born Lopez, who has taught in Canada for more than 20 years.

Speaking at the 50-50 Conference hosted by the University of the West Indies' Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies at the Jamaica Pegasus last week, Lopez, who has years of experience in reforming Jamaican students who migrate to Canada, said the inability to speak and write in English must be urgently addressed.

"As I was reading the results for CXC, I could quickly pick out what the problem was because a student can beautifully give me an amazing oral narrative in patois, but put it on paper and they get one out of 10," she said.

Meanwhile, Henry-Wilson said one of the tasks of the Tertiary Education Commission will be to recommend changes to the teachers colleges' in how math teachers are selected and trained.

"We need more math teachers, but we need to look at the matriculation requirements. Do those requirements actually allow you to be able to teach math? In other words, if you don't have the foundation in math, what is it that is going to make you able to be a math teacher? Then we have to look at the institutions preparing math teachers in terms of the quality of their faculty, their infrastructure and the pedagogical skills they will need to deliver," she said.

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