'Homeschooling should not be linked with testing,' argues ECLAC official

'Homeschooling should not be linked with testing,' argues ECLAC official

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 30, 2020

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Charging that the Caribbean seems to be obsessed with using tests to determine educational progress, an official of the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) says that approach does not gel with homeschooling, which most territories have now embraced because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to Dr Dillon Alleyne, deputy director of ECLAC's subregional headquarters, “General testing is necessary only to determine the impact and performance of the whole system. We seem to be obsessed with testing in the Caribbean. We are testing even in the middle of the pandemic. I wouldn't call which countries are involved.”

Dr Alleyne was one of five panellists expressing their views on education during the pandemic on day one of the 15th annual Caribbean Child Research Conference dubbed 'Pandemics and Children's Rights (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child)' held last week.

Asked if given the prevalence of homeschooling over the last six months, and uneven educational experiences, whether there should be a radical alteration of assessment methodologies away from traditional testing, he said “I don't think homeschooling should be linked with testing.”

“I think that you will have a variety of schooling types across any jurisdiction. In the United States and Britain you have homeschooling and traditional schooling. I don't think you should link those things together. There are parents who, for all kinds of reasons, do not want their children to be part of the regular process,” Dr Alleyne argued.

“My point is, essentially, what you need is an education system committed to a single standard recognising what I would call different capabilities and intelligences of students, but you have a single menu of activities, students carry a certain set of subjects whether you are homeschooling or not, and what you do is teaching in relation to the ability of every student so that boys, for example, require certain kinds of engagement; then you have to roll out that engagement relative to girls,” he added.

“But the important thing is that you are looking at the progress of a single child over time, rather than looking at the child in relation to other children. The point I am making is, you want to focus teaching on the individual capability of each child and over time reduce the differentials in outcomes amongst groups,” he said further.

Dr Alleyne noted that in Finland, for example, where this approach has worked, “the differential between all schools is five per cent, and 50 per cent of the students choose vocational training”.

“In other words, some of those students that have chosen vocational training could have gone on to be doctors. And that is what you want, a radical reduction over time in the quality of outcomes so that what is important is not what school you go to, what is important is your interest,” he argued.

“Right now, what is happening is that because the quality is so unequal, the middle and upper classes make sure their children don't go to certain schools... and it's true of the Caribbean... What we need to do is equalise outcomes across schools, keeping the quality... and the issue of testing will take care of itself,” he contended.

Addressing the issue of what can be done to reorganise in the interest of Caribbean children who deserve to be part of a globally competitive education system, Dr Alleyne said “I affirm that we are now in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is a way of describing the blurring of everything between — physical, digital and biological world. It brings together the arts and the sciences. We must prepare our people with globally marketable skills.”

As such, he said, the information communication technology (ICT) architecture in the Caribbean is critical.

“It is not consequent on COVID, it was always necessary. What we need is a broadband infrastructure that must be available to all communities, all households, all our schools, and all our children,” he pointed out.

He also argued that “a knowledge economy must form the basis of a post-COVID agenda”.

Key to all of this, he said, is “a policy promoting high quality education and training for all, and lifelong learning and monitoring and evaluation to make sure the system works and that we are getting value for money”.

Teacher training and retraining, he advised, is necessary, and there must be incentives for innovation and performance. “Various universities and teacher training colleges must be in the forefront of carrying the right message for systemic change. This must be given time to work; very often we look for quick fixes,” Dr Alleyne added.

In October, Jamaica Teachers' Association President Jasford Gabriel had cited the need for a revamp of the placement system for students matriculating to the high school level, arguing that the inequity now manifested has handicapped Jamaica socially and economically.

Gabriel, who is also principal of the popular Manchester High School in Mandeville in central Jamaica, is of the opinion that the lack of will to address the placement scheme, under what was known as the Common Entrance Exams, now Primary Exit Profile (PEP), is resulting in blighted futures for thousands of youth.

The coronavirus pandemic, which forced the closure of schools islandwide in March, left education officials scrambling to devise novel ways of attributing grades for the second level of the PEP exams and presenting students with those grades and placements. In the end, the final grades for the assessment comprised the Grade Four Numeracy and Literacy Tests done in 2018, the Grade Five Performance Tasks done in 2019 and the Grade Six Ability Test that was done in February 2020.

Because of the pandemic, students were forced to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination in July instead of the customary May/June. The exams are also offered in January, typically for re-sit, and and in May/June for in-school and private candidates. Other changes included the administration of at least one common paper (Paper 1), a multiple choice assessment that was combined with School Based Assessments (SBAs) and Paper 032 for private candidates. It also included an award of final grades based on the modified SBA and multiple choice assessment.


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