Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Near mastery won't cut it

Published:Monday | December 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM

So can anyone figure out what is the final position of the Government since the disastrous results of the mock Primary Exit Profile performance test were prised from State Minister Floyd Green in Parliament two weeks ago? For to tell truth, the defensive verbiage from ministry officials since then does not even reach any standard of 'near mastery' of what is arguably the most serious national problem.

Are they just praying that the rest of us are misunderstanding, malevolent or, when they have really panicked, "political", because the grade six children are really quite OK given the official stupidity that a near pass has always been taken as a full pass or that anyway the exam was very hard and, by inference, will be dumbed down for the real test in March?

Can you figure out the purpose of this effort to insult our intelligence, demean the credibility of the responsible minister, and hurt innocent young people? How can you glean political benefit out of that?

Well, the responses have clearly backfired, left someone with his pants on fire, and the country without a solution.

Because however you try to parse and disinfect the results, they indicate that a large majority of Jamaican 12-year-olds have a deficiency in English, mathematics, science and social studies; proven beyond controversy by their performance in the mock exam and evidenced by the meagre successes of their predecessors in examinations further up the educational ladder. It is a systemic issue that has not been addressed adequately up to now.

Nemo dat quod non habet: a Latin maxim that says you can't give what you don't have. It applies to significant numbers of teachers who have not been equipped to teach the new curriculum, too recently and suddenly introduced, or to adjust themselves and their students to a novel form of assessment.

Just listen to any primary-school principal tell of the gravely varied reading levels of their students. Weak language skills were evident in the June test. Face facts that many, yes, many, of our mathematics teachers are really not trained as such. And cut out the disingenuous denials when most tell you that it is only latterly, if at all yet, that they are in possession of hard copies of the curriculum or the PEP workbooks.

While broader questions to do with the repurposing of primary education, limited comprehension of Standard Jamaican English, the retraining of teachers, as well as the enabling of children to go to school every day, are dealt with, I wish to humbly repeat a suggestion that could alleviate the present wretched predicament for those preparing for the March exam.

In early January, commission the best teachers in the relevant subjects to offer lessons that can be accessed on television and smartphone. You could even usefully dedicate the Public Broadcasting Corporation channel to the PEP cause for three months.

This would be using existing resources in productive and helpful ways rather than trying to save face. One hopes that Ministry of Education is not so self-obsessed as to refuse this proposal, but even if so, what an opportunity for the private sector to "run with it".

After all, even if the ineluctable truth eludes Heroes Circle, the business sector knows the value of high technical and academic standards for their workers and customers. The absence of enough well-qualified staff is one of the major inhibitors of the further investment that the IMF and others identify as a requirement for growth.

For them and for us all in this 21st-century global competitive environment, near mastery won't cut it.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.