Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Lipton Matthews | PEP above many teachers' competence

Published:Tuesday | January 15, 2019 | 12:00 AMLipton Matthews/Guest Columnist

Faddish thinking seems to be replacing policy at the Ministry of Education. This could be the only logical justification for the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exam.

Policymakers are positing that PEP, which will be replacing the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), will emphasise critical thinking. The fallacy of this argument is that a multiple-choice exam does not require thinking skills. Multiple-choice exams can be as difficult as a written paper and, in some scenarios, may even require more critical thinking because the answers are in such close proximity.

Local policy analysts are influenced by the present trend in education that de-emphasises the role of knowledge. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity are now some of the platitudes being spewed by educationists. In Jamaica, these are termed the '4Cs'.

However, students will not become proficient in any of the 4Cs until they develop expertise in a variety of topics. The problem with PEP is that it will demand 10- and 11-year-old students to complete complex tasks that will entail superior skills in research and quantitative analyses, yet many of their instructors are deficient in such areas.

For example, the PEP curriculum will involve the analysis of sources by students. Though a standard practice in academia, at the primary level, this is not necessary. A number of factors, ranging from the bias of the author to methodological inconsistencies, can affect the credibility of a study. Therefore, it would make no sense to teach children to use an authoritative source, without explaining that authority alone does not make research valid.

Furthermore, under the PEP curriculum, pupils shall be expected to apply the knowledge gained in mathematics to undertake projects. Such a requirement is troubling because it necessitates an understanding of the rudiments of mathematics, but recent data indicate that only 16 per cent of teachers are qualified to teach mathematics. So not only is PEP above the cognitive level of students, the curriculum also baffles their instructors.

Even more misguided is the view that creativity can be taught. One is either creative or unimaginative, and most creatives tend to be intrinsically motivated and highly intelligent. As a result, only a few in the population will be creative. We need to encourage the very best to become better, but not expect all to be creative. This is simply impossible.

What's more, collaboration and communication are skills people develop over time, one does not master them at age 12.

Since the flaws of the PEP are evident, the present administration should act judiciously in doing away with it.

- Lipton Matthews is a regular contributor to The Gleaner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lo_matthews@yahoo.com.