Numbers don't lie, Thwaites

Numbers don't lie, Thwaites

BY Trebuh Eroom

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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The ongoing public hullabaloo for more money to be allocated as incentive for teachers who specialise in the realms of mathematics and the sciences in an attempt to safeguard their expertise within the country has been ricocheting like bullets from a firing squad. There have, however, been mix responses from various sectors of the society.

The former minister of education — now shadow minister — has been spewing his uncensored input in defence of the above, but such utterances are a sheer façade. It is obviously for political mileage and is an absolute means to appease the masses. Is education now being seen as a political football?

His saying mathematics and science teachers should be paid more in an attempt to keep them ashore for longer periods in a fragile and overbearing education system can be viewed from several tactical angles. Firstly, the number of these specialists is dwindling each year by the scores. As well, these teachers, to an extent, are not given the platform to execute their talents effectively in a resource-stricken public system. Moreover, a number of mathematics teachers will share stories of unsavoury experiences interacting with the current mathematics programme, which does not afford them worthwhile alternatives to the teaching and learning of mathematical concepts. The programme in question, since its inception, is less supportive and far more suppressive of the creative attributes of gifted mathematics teachers to build on or sustain their innate skills. Why are these personnel still being allowed to squander billions of taxpayers' hard-earned dollars as well as resources and time?

On the flip side, and based on the aforementioned, mathematics is one of, if not the worst performing of the disciplines at the primary and secondary levels. Just revisit the recent results of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP), Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) in this area. Results for mathematics in PEP reflect less than a per cent achieving mastery in the subject earlier this year. As for CSEC, just fewer than 55 per cent of candidates who sat the exam were successful — a reduction of four per cent in comparison with the previous year. The number for CAPE successes keeps fluctuating over the years, with an average pass rate just dangling below 40 per cent. We can equate these numbers with the sciences, especially physics, which has been doing woefully over the years as a result of the lack of understanding basic mathematical concepts. Chemistry, to some extent, suffers a similar fate. And, lastly, students tend to do fairly well in the realm of biology, as it hovers around basic numerical precepts. Does it require a rocket scientist to realise that numeracy has taken a serious and suicidal plunge since the genesis of the much-touted national mathematics programme?

In concluding, it would be a travesty and an unfair practice to put more money in the pockets of teachers who specialise in these disciplines and, in the same breath, turn a blind eye to other subject teachers whose CSEC and CAPE results have been repeating excellent performances year after year. Take, for example, English — which is by no means an easy language to get across to natives who hardly speak it — reflects a staggering output of over 80 per cent of passes among its cohort that sat such in May CSEC papers of this year. The good reverend, with scant disregard, classifies some of these teachers as “the good, the effective, and the incompetent” — the latter of which apparently mirrors the efforts of some members of the national mathematics programme, especially their erudite leader.

It is about time these so-called geniuses in the ministry remove their heads from out of their tails and inhale the sweet, refreshing air of imminent change — the exodus of more and more competent teachers to foreign shores, where their true worth will be well appreciated and highly recognised with honour and dignity.

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