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Don't blame teachers alone

Educator says other factors contribute to poor exam results

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 24, 2012    

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ONE of the country's foremost educators has argued that while all the blame for the decline in Mathematics passes at the high school level over recent years cannot be placed at the feet of teachers, they are, in some way, at fault.

Professor Claude Packer, president of the Mico University College, was giving his analysis of the latest Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) passes released by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) last week, showing that 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.

"We have looked at it for years," he said. "Besides, the statistics show that 60 per cent of students have failed Math over the past 10 years, which is extremely poor; on the average four per cent get a grade one [and] probably 18 per cent get a grade two.

"Our problem is, and I do not want to blame the teachers, you cannot teach what you do not know, but the teachers are not adequately prepared to teach to the CSEC level," Professor Packer told education ministry officials, members of academia, CXC officials and markers, as well as journalists yesterday during a forum at the ministry's Heroes Circle office to explore factors contributing to the decline in English A and Mathematics this year.

"The University of the West Indies for years trained the teachers to teach up to the grade 9 level, the bulk of the teachers in the system are trained to teach up to the diploma level... the teacher factor is mandatory," Professor Packer said. He added that the common experience was that persons had been trained to teach up to the grade 9 level, but because of the shortage in the system they ended up being employed by principals to teach beyond that level.

Professor Packer was responding to a question from Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites, who wanted to know what was wrong, if the paper and the marking were fair.

The Mico University College head is adamant that the CXC is not at fault for the marks which have caused much furore.

"I think CXC is the success story of the region in terms of their paper-setting exercise and standardisation and their table-marking scheme. The papers are well marked. CXC ensures that the markers are evaluated annually, the chief examiners are evaluated and, over time, are changed, so the exam itself is fair and the questions are quite fair," Professor Packer said.

"There are some excellent teachers across Jamaica, but they need more content. We have to lift the level and train teachers because the bulk of the teachers we train are in the college system," he said and suggested that teachers be trained to degree level.

"There is nothing wrong with the examination. We need more teachers in the system who can teach to that level," Professor Packer noted further.

CXC Examiner David Morgan was of the opinion that "there are other reasons outside school which contribute to the results we are seeing".

"Judging by my own children, they spend an awful lot of time with electronic gadgets and not doing their homework," he said. "I have spoken to other parents. So let us accept that there are other reasons outside school which contribute to the results we are seeing."

According to Morgan, the issue of external monitoring, which is done at the Grades 3, 4 and 6 levels in public schools, should be continued throughout and would act as a target for teachers and students.

"They then go to high school and there is no monitoring (no Ministry of Education exams) just internal exams. Furthermore, there is not enough concentrated effort on improving the weaker (Math) students, the teachers seem to want to spend their time making the good students better," he pointed out.

In her contribution, CXC examiner Sheila Garcia-Bisnott said: "I suggest we start off by identifying what are the schools that are not performing well and give them special attention — teachers and students — to lift their performance in the short term. A longer term plan can be devised."

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.

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