Primary education system has outlived its usefulness
Kaieteur News
July 3, 2004

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It is a sign of the times that to be guaranteed a place at one of the nation’s top secondary schools students must get upwards of 93 per cent of the total marks available at the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (SSEE).

Many persons who attended the top secondary schools more than 15 years ago got into those schools on the basis of marks that would not be good enough by today’s more competitive standards. These days, a difference of one mark out of a possible 660 could separate the performance of scores, of hundreds of children.

The difference of a couple of marks seems to have far too much influence on the fate of the children who take the SSEE examination. This has caused an unfair and unacceptable situation whereby children whose difference in performance is just a few percentage points, are placed in schools that are poles apart in terms of the standard of education they offer.

Students who got pass marks of 93 per cent and below in the SSEE examination were generally out of contention for places in the top five secondary schools. This ruled out hundreds of children who performed well and who would have breezed into the top schools a couple of decades ago.

No one in their right mind can say that students who got pass marks between 80 per cent and 93 per cent did not do well. Even those whose passing marks were 80 per cent were only about 15 per cent off the best performers. Yet the realistic picture is that such students will be placed in schools where the standard of education and facilities as well as the record of students’ success at secondary school level are more than 30 per cent lower than those of the top secondary schools.

For many years, education officials have known that the number of children writing the SSEE examination rises at a rate that by far outpaces the availability of places at quality secondary schools. The bottleneck gets bigger every year and this has dramatically changed parents’ and teachers’ approach to primary education, to the detriment of many young children.

Desperate to produce children who are competitive at SSEE level, parents and teachers have increased the workload of primary school children to unhealthy levels. Children who should be spending their afternoons and weekends at rest and at play are being called upon to pay large chunks of their free time studying and doing extra lessons.

While academic success is important, the heavy workload of book-learning parents and teachers inflict on young children in the hope of ensuring success at SSEE, undoubtedly impairs the children’s character development.

The intense preparations for the SSEE and the problems associated with placing children in secondary schools put far too much pressure on children to get places in the top secondary schools. Too many parents and educators view this sort of pressure as a necessary evil because they perceive that a child will get a sub-standard secondary education if that child does not go to one of the elite secondary schools.

It will be hard to shake this belief because students at the top secondary schools consistently and significantly outperform students who are educated elsewhere.

The writing has long been on the wall that the way students are prepared for secondary education and the manner in which they are placed in secondary schools must be drastically changed. The government has announced its intention to scrap the examination, but whether this will alleviate the problem is not at all certain.

This is a major problem with Guyana’s education system and it seems to require a broad-based and inventive solution.

Despite the seriousness of our economic situation, there must be a way to devote more time and resources to overhauling the current education system. Based on current evidence, we have no choice but to believe that problems with the education system, such as the placement of students after the SSEE examination, will multiply as time passes.

Unfortunately, the pomp and ceremony surrounding the performances of the highest achievers under the current system tend to blur many people’s perception of the magnitude of the challenges facing children locked in the primary education system.

As we celebrate the outstanding efforts of the top SSEE students, we must also be aware of and beware of the drain on the morale of those who tried their best but did not make the grade. It would appear that the current system of primary education leads to success for only very few.

This year, the vast majority of the 17,000 who wrote the SSEE face a future in education that is very murky indeed.

The current primary education system has been a glaring disaster for thousands of children. It has clearly outlived its usefulness and should be changed without undue delay.