Urgent need to improve standards of comprehension and expression in English
Stabroek News
March 31, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Since the Minister of Education must have ready access to accurate figures I certainly defer to his correction (letter SN 23/3/02) of the figures I gave in my column of 17/3/02 for 1971 English Language and Literature 16+ exam results. I got my figures from David Cox's comparative analysis of English Language and English Literature exam results in seven Caricom countries in the period 1960 1984. I can only assume that I misread or misunderstood that presentation. I hope to approach the Minster to see and understand the source of his figures for 1971 not only in English but in other subjects since for a long time I have wanted to understand clearly what educational standards existed in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean thirty or forty years ago.

The figures given by the Minister for 2001, which are the figures of greatest immediate concern, do not differ from mine. Unfortunately, these figures reveal a truly horrible situation. Out of the thousands upon thousands of young Guyanese in the relevant population groups (the Minister can tell us what the actual figure is) only 5561 even got so far as to take the Language exam and only 2006 passed and in Literature 1314 took the exam with 416 passing. The implications of such results over the years are evident everywhere in the economy and the society in teaching standards, at the University, in private sector and pubic service performance and, in the case of Literature, the decline of creative literary standards.

The Ministry's Strategic Plan 2002 06 gives top priority to improving literacy (and numeracy). The Minster in his letter reaffirms this and it is an admirable objective which the whole country should get involved in supporting.

In my column I appealed for an extension of this priority to include an emphasis on improving the teaching of English Language and Literature, not only in the primary school system where illiteracy will mainly be tackled, but also in secondary schools where standards of comprehension and expression in English are ingrained. I repeat my appeal to include this as a top priority in the Strategic Plan to supplement the elimination of illiteracy.

Yours faithfully,

Ian McDonald