‘Math Crisis’: Education ministry says serious challenge ahead amid poor exam results

Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Maureen Dwyer has warned that a serious challenge lays ahead as students continue to perform poorly in mathematics exams.

She disclosed that an analysis from the ministry’s Exams and Assessment Administration Services Branch showed that of the just over 35,200 students who sat the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) Exams in 2022, less than half, 16, 149 or 45.9 per cent were assessed as being proficient and 1,731 or 4.9 per cent assessed as being highly proficient.

On the other end of the line, 1,995 or 5.7 per cent of students were assessed as being at the beginning stage while another 15,312 or 43.5 per cent were assessed as being at the developing stage.

Dwyer’s warning was sounded in her keynote address at the Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College inaugural Mathematics Conference on Wednesday, November 23, under the theme, “Sharp Mathematics 2022: Angling our Trajectory to the future of Mathematics.”

Noting that these figures were not significantly different than what was seen in the two years immediately before the pandemic, she commented that “When we place this analysis in the context of these students being prepared for more demanding secondary level work, we see the big challenge that lies ahead.”

At the secondary level, in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations for this year, 7, 402 or 37.2 per cent of the 19,886 who sat mathematics got passing grades of 1 to 111. This compares to the 7,979 or 43.5 per cent who got grades 1, 11 or 111 in 2021.

“The numbers have been consistently below 50 per cent passes over many years. Clearly friends, we have ‘to do sumpn’. And that something has to be a multi-pronged approach,” opined Dwyer.

For its part, she said the Ministry of Education has stepped up its support and collaboration with teachers training colleges to examine how pre-service teachers were being prepared to teach the subject.

“We have also started to implement the specialist subject teachers’ model at primary level with the aim of seeing improved outcomes. This is within the context of the latest reports by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) showing that a little over 200 of our primary schools are ranked as unsatisfactory and two that are cited as needing immediate support in teacher effectiveness,” disclosed Dwyer.

She stated that historically, in primary schools, the model of one teacher in the classroom teaching all subjects, providing psychosocial support, being parent, providing class resources in addition to managing class time and disciplining students, the end result being that “our teachers are often overwhelmed and their effectiveness significantly reduced. Our students are the ones that ultimately suffer.”

The Acting Permanent Secretary said the new model of having specialist teachers in primary schools aimed to improve student performance.

“By reorganising the delivery of instruction of the Exploratory Core subject areas (Mathematics, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies) and comprehensively treating the training and redeployment of primary school teachers as subject specialists in these focus areas, The Ministry expects to see improved results in the educational performance of our students. We

also expect our teachers to have a more satisfying teaching and learning experience,” she stated.

Dwyer commended Sam Sharpe Teachers College for holding the mathematics conference as a commitment to strengthening pedagogy and that of the mathematics teaching community. She also welcomed it as being “a timely initiative to bring added focus to the challenges and opportunities in the teaching and learning of mathematics” and that it was taking place within the context of concerns about the underperformance of Jamaican students in mathematics at the primary and secondary level.

Over many years, students have felt intimidated by the subject and therefore approach it with fear and apprehension; there was therefore the imperative of helping students to develop the mathematical literacy needed for the prevailing digital age.

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