Editorial: No succour for the apologists
No one can quarrel with Ronnie Thwaites' argument that passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams can't be the only measure of the worth of Jamaican students. But we hope that the education minister's assertion last week, reported by this newspaper yesterday, is not misinterpreted, by apologists in the education Establishment, and others, as an endorsement of Jamaica's still poor education outcomes.
The backdrop of this matter is the decade-old report of the government task force into education, which called for significant new investments in the system in an effort to lift standards. At the time, only around 15 per cent of Jamaican students who sat the regional CSEC exams passed five subjects, including maths and English, at a single sitting. On such performances, most students struggled for matriculation to tertiary education and, the task force concluded, were not readily competent for the world of work in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.
performance well below target
Since then, the Government's spend on education, unadjusted for inflation, has risen by 113 per cent. So, too, has the proportion of students passing five subjects in a single sitting, with maths and English, having more than doubled, to just under 39 per cent. However, the performance is still well below the target of 60 per cent by 2015. Other performance measures at the primary and secondary levels, despite improvements, are still behind target.
Mr Thwaites, into his fourth year on the job, has brought greater passion and energy to the education portfolio and there are signs that the performance gains could accelerate. He, like his post-task force predecessor, in addition to traditional academic pedagogy that is presumably represented by CSEC, has been promoting technical and vocational training in high schools.
That provides the context for his remark that "whatever the wisdom of the early transformation report", the measure of Jamaican students "cannot be ... by CSEC passes". There was an inadvertent omission from the minister's statement, we believe, of the word "only". For Mr Thwaites is right about the need to "play to the different aptitudes of our students", which implies the need for people to pay attention to their performances in technical certification exams like those administered by the UK-based City & Guilds, and the domestic National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ).
issues to note
A few issues are worthy of certification, whatever the mode of certification. Jamaica has to graduate students whose education puts them in a position to compete with counterparts in a market where physical borders are less relevant than they used to be. Technology and economic globalisation have flattened the world.
In that regard, it is worth noting that while the ratio of Jamaican students who passed maths in the City & Guilds exams (71 per cent) was 10 percentage points more than those who gained passing grades at CSEC, the number taking the Caribbean exam was five time times more (above 23,000) than those who did the City & Guilds test.
Further, in the NVQ exams, of the 6,358 who sought Level One qualification, a mere 21.5 per cent were successful. At Level Two, only 180 students did the exam; six passed. Note, too, that up to a third of students are screened out of secondary exams like CSEC and City & Guilds.
The point is that even with a concentration on the alternatives to CSEC, Jamaica's education still has a long, uphill haul.