The Ministry of Education will be moving the Grade One Readiness Inventory test from the primary school level to early childhood institutions.
The test is currently done during the second week of the first term for students of grade one in primary schools to assess their readiness for primary level education, but minister of education, youth and culture, Maxine Henry-Wilson, told the House of Representatives last Tuesday that it would be done in the early childhood institutions in the future.
"What the inventory recognises is that between the ages of zero and six, you begin to see children beginning to learn in different ways. Some learn better by hearing, some learn better visually, and what you are trying to do is to make sure that you don't have over-compensation of one side versus the other," she said.
"The idea is that we are going to do the Grade One Inventory no longer in grade one. We are going to be doing it in the early childhood institutions, so that when the child makes the transition, you know what are the strengths and weaknesses of that child's learning pattern, as distinct from saying that the child has failed, or the child has passed."
The minister was responding to concerns raised by Opposition spokesman on education Andrew Holness that private preparatory schools are out-performing basic and infant schools and infant departments of public schools in the test.
Holness had referred to the March 2005 report from the government-appointed Task Force on Educational Reform (Early Childhood Care and Development Sector Report) which stated that in 2003, preparatory schools (including pre-schools) out-performed basic and infant schools and infant departments in all areas of the Grade One Readiness Inventory.
The inventory is made up of 33 items covering four cognitive areas: visual motor co-ordination - which focuses on hand/eye co-ordination, a skill which enables the child to manipulate symbols; visual perception - which measures discrimination, memory and figure ground; auditory perception - which covers memory, association, listening comprehension and discrimination; and number and letter knowledge.
He noted that data from the Ministry of Education also indicated that, in terms of pupil mastery in the very areas by school type, over 26 per cent of children from basic schools achieved mastery on all the tests, whereas in private preparatory schools, 61 per cent achieved mastery.
Holness said that the Opposition had consistently spoken to the need to create a very strong early childhood educational system as the support base for students from public schools to go on to greater achievements.
"But we are not doing as well as we should in terms of the mastery level," he said. "The private schools are showing almost 40 per cent better performance and we have to be very careful of that, because this society is one of great inequality and we cannot allow this to be perpetuated through our educational system."
He said that the country had concluded that all children must achieve a certain level of mastery of the skills which prepare them for primary and preparatory schools, therefore there was a need to narrow the gap.
Henry-Wilson said that the task force's report made the point that there was confusion between publicly-funded infant schools and basic schools that were privately-funded.
"The infant schools that are publicly-funded tend to outdo, in terms of facilities and teachers, what is done in many of the private basic schools, as distinct from preparatory schools which tend to be a little bit more up on the ladder," she said.
"So, one of the dilemmas we face is, how do we overcome that issue where in a community you have an infant school where the children don't pay to go to school, and in others you only have the basic school where the children pay to go to school, but the standard tends to be lower than the infant school."
The comparisons, she added, were really public versus private but also infant schools versus private basic schools.
The education minister said that the government had a dilemma in terms of taking a decision as to whether to continue with infant schools or make all the schools private.
She said the Task Force had recommended government should seriously look at when to move the children from the basic school into the public schools, because they tend to do better when they are introduced early to the public school system.
"One of the dilemmas that we have to confront is that where you have public infant schools, that is the smaller children, that they tend to do better than the private basic schools, precisely because you have the trained teachers there.
"So it is a question of how do you then bring private basic schools up to standard, in terms of the provision of adequate books, adequate training facilities, et cetera?"