Why Ruel Reid is correct
The Editor, Sir:
I would like to comment on Michael Franklin's letter of Monday, January 25, entitled "Awful reasoning from an educator". although I am quite sure that Ruel Reid is fully capable of speaking for himself, it raises some very important issues concerning the way too many of us think about the problems in education in Jamaica, about which I have been writing to the press.
In matters of education, as in the social sciences in general, it is rather futile to speak about proof. There are far too many variables that go into producing educational outcomes for us to make definite statements about cause and effect.
What Mr Reid gave was evidence, not proof. Perhaps his wording could have been more precise than it was, but the point he made still remains valid. There are literate people who fail to get even a grade three in CXC English. I have observed similar instances during my career where students managed to get a 'C' grade at GCE in the same year that they fail to get even a three at CXC. This is true for other subjects as well as English. If these are exceptions, the view that literate candidates will pass CXC English, is not a valid rule.
Developmentally better off
Mr Franklin then continues: "He also seems to be suggesting that Jamaicans are, developmentally, better off taking the same exam at 18 and 19 that the Brits (and Finns and Singaporeans) do at 16. Perhaps he is right, but I do not believe so." The issue is not whether or not they are better off, or less capable than anybody else. The point he makes is that "Some can swallow a whole 'dumpling', but others could do so by cutting it into pieces and having one piece at a time." In other words, our system and our schools must cater to the full range of students on the bell curve. Those who are ready at 13, those who are ready at 16, 19, 23 and, yes, even at 50.
On the matter of SBAs, I would suggest that the direction suggested by Mr Reid is the way to go. In fact, it is a pity that at the CAPE level the projects have been cut out. I found that in physics it energised the boys who tend to learn by doing things, and made the learning experience more relevant. It was cut out, I understand, largely on the request of some schools and also because they found difficulty in assessing it.
We need to allow more internal assessment in the schools which can then be moderated by external assessors who mark samples of the work. Examinations are not as reliable as it might seem. They encourage students to focus narrowly on passing the exam, rather than on learning. I became aware of this when I taught the General Paper, at A' Levels, before the introduction of CAPE. I have known students who received distinctions in History at CXC, who did not know the difference between the prehistoric, the ancient, the medieval and the modern world. They know nothing of world history because it is not on the syllabus.
Examinations are really a lazy way of assessing students. We have to use it because we do not yet have the means to do it properly by expanding the role of internal assessment. The exam-centred approach has also encouraged cheating where, from time to time, people manage to purchase papers from printing offices and elsewhere. What we ought to have is assessment done on a series of standardised exams, rather than on the basis of a few big ones. This would be used along with school-based assessment to determine matriculation for tertiary institution, as well as for employment.
We need to change the culture in this country into one that sees the need for assessment and certification for every individual, from the garbage collector to the prospective M.I.T. student. I am happy to see that someone like Mr Reid is on the NCE, for he seems to understand what is really important. Assessment in education should not be seen as part of some competition between schools or even among students. Assessment should always be for learning. Education should always be regarded as a lifelong collaborative process of shared experience.
I am, etc.,
R HOWARD THOMPSON