New system may put too much pressure on primary students -PNCR
Education Minister disagrees By Andre Haynes
Stabroek News
July 16, 2003

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The PNCR says the recent attempt to implement changes in the transition from primary to secondary schools may end up putting too much pressure on young schoolchildren.

But Minister of Education, Dr Henry Jeffrey is defending the new system saying it is a far fairer assessment than one single exam.

The system requires primary students taking three exams starting at Prep B with the results going towards a final score.

At its weekly press briefing held last Thursday at Congress Place Sophia, the party said the intended replacement of the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations (SSEE) by a “new system which involves the increased emphasis on continued assessment and school-based assessment, will cause grave disquiet.”

The statement added too that the new system is being implemented “by stealth” at the school level without adequate public debate and public education. The party contended that the system could put additional pressure on children in primary schools.

“The government cannot guarantee the integrity of the system of selection, it cannot guarantee a level playing field between schools and education districts and it knows full well the great inequalities in the quality of secondary schools.”

Jeffrey, in a response to a Stabroek News editorial on the new system noted that consultations on the assessment had begun two years ago.

He added that the new programme was not intended as school-based assessments but national assessments under the National Centre for Education, Research and Development (NCERD) programme. He said this approach was actually fairer than assessing the children in one single examination.

“A good assessment system is an interplay of adequate diagnostic and rectification mechanisms. With the best will in the world, it [would] take some time to significantly improve our management systems to make teaching more results oriented. In this context, the placement aspect of this proposed assessment is an important performance incentive for improving standards at the primary level.”

He added that “come next year, the secondary schools entrance examination will only apply to the approximately two dozen schools that are usually most in demand. All other children will be placed in the secondary school closest to their homes. This should help to improve enrollment and cut domestic education costs for many parents. The placement aspect of those assessments will, as a result, be voluntary.”

We have carefully set the required standards of these assessments at levels that are not oppressive. Further, we see no harm in people using after school lessons at any level to improve the children’s life opportunities. We understand that, by the very nature of things, once there is competition some people will go to excessive lengths, but we also believe that most parents would not endanger their children.

Regarding teacher training, Jeffrey provided Basic Education Access and Management Support (BEAMS) documentation which outlines that training had been catered for in the amount of US$2.67M. He said this covered teacher in-service training, upgrading and supervision. As many as 20 Master Teachers would be trained to train 90 Cluster Literacy and Numeracy Advisors. These advisors would train approximately 6,700 primary and nursery school teachers in literacy and numeracy methods for classroom use, instructional planning and continuous assessment.

The PNCR at the press conference had stated that the ministry was attempting to upgrade basic education with minimal reference to tertiary training and research.

The party suggested that the administration believed new schools were the answer, even though those schools were without teachers. “We believe that quality teachers with good professional attitudes will upgrade basic education.”