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In our Sunday edition last week we carried figures comparing Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results for the core subjects in the various territories. Unlike the Minister of Education, who premised his statements about improvements in local students’ performance on passes obtained between Grades 1-4, we limited our comparisons to Grades 1-3, on the grounds that Grade 4 is not regarded as a pass for tertiary education purposes, and many businesses - particularly where English A and Mathematics are concerned - will not accept it either.
There is no doubt that there has been an improvement in the English A results this year compared to last year. In 2002 only 4,980 candidates sat English A, of whom 23.1% gained Grades 1-3, while this year, with a significantly larger number of candidates entered for the exam - 7,450 - 24.8% passed with Grades 1-3.
However, before anyone gets too excited about that, it has to be said that compared to the region we are still performing very poorly. For the relevant grades Barbados obtained a 68.3% pass rate after entering 3,803 candidates; our neighbour Trinidad and Tobago with 24,860 candidates had a 55.3% pass rate; and Jamaica, with 32,725 candidates, had a 42.7 pass rate. In comparison with the smaller islands, Guyana did particularly badly. Of the 887 candidates who took English A in Antigua and Barbuda, 60.1% obtained Grades 1-3, while in the case of Dominica where 1,089 students sat English, 67.2% achieved passes under the above definition. And in St Lucia, where there were 2,286 entries, there was a 58.4% pass rate. In other words, with the exception of Jamaica, over 50% (well over in most cases) of the candidates from the territories named above obtained Grades 1-3.
The situation in Mathematics was even worse, where in Guyana approximately three out of four failed to get a pass at Grades 1-3. The results for Maths are lower than for English A in all the territories, although the pass rate is still over 50% except in the case of Jamaica, St Lucia and Dominica. However, where the last two are concerned, they are still achieving over 40 per cent, while in Jamaica’s case, about one third of her entrants are passing.
At a press briefing Minister Jeffrey told the media that he regarded much of the talk about reaching Caribbean standards as “without great merit” because of the amount of resources spent per child, as compared to the region. While this is undoubtedly true, it has to be observed that when it is convenient the Government (and not just the Minister) likes to boast that we spend a higher proportion of our GDP on education than any other Caricom state. Are we to conclude, therefore, that despite this generous allocation in relation to the size of the nation’s budget, that we are still spending too little in absolute terms to get a significant improvement in students’ performance?
There is another question too, and that is how the funds which are being allocated are being utilized. A great deal of money has been spent on educational infrastructure, the quality of which has improved dramatically in recent times, and money has also been given for institutional strengthening in the form of teacher training. Unfortunately, however, the first of these will not in and of itself produce any transformations results-wise, while the impact of the second is likely to be limited. As has been observed before in these columns, training teachers whose educational exposure has been defective from primary school onwards, is not going to produce miracles.
It does not matter how wonderful the school buildings and appurtenances might be, if there are no good teachers in the classrooms, then the quality of education available in our education system will not change much. Yet the Government has resisted for a long time the connection between teachers and results. As the media pointed out to the Minister at his briefing, the average loss rate of qualified and/or trained teachers to the country is something like 250 per annum. With the best will in the world, and with the best school buildings in the world, no educational system in our circumstances can withstand that.
The Government has to be prepared to address its mind to the matter of teachers’ salaries and conditions in an innovative way, and try and move away from the confrontational approach towards the teachers it has adopted hitherto. It also should look at stop-gap measures in terms of recruitment which can be taken in the short term. In any event, the first thing that is necessary is that it should regard the teaching situation as a crisis, which requires the same amount of focus and attention as any other crisis.
It is time to stop pretending. Our examination results do us no credit. Guyanese teachers are keeping the education systems of several small islands going - and look at the results which their students are obtaining.