By Jaevion Nelson
It's that time of the year again when the nation gets in a frenzy about the shambolic state of our education system. Suddenly, we realise we are far behind in ensuring that 'Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential' through 'world-class education and training' (Vision 2030 Goal 1, Outcome 2).
I am deeply concerned about our (mis)use of CXC exams to assess students' aptitude. Core issues that plague our education system are routinely overlooked because of our preoccupation with passes and school rankings. Wile
I attended Clarendon College and so, too, did one of my sisters. Sonya matriculated to the sixth-form programme with nine subjects, including mathematics and English, for which she obtained grades three and one, respectively.
Sonya, like so many other students, was not recommended to sit mathematics. Many schools call this 'screening'. She was also screened out of social studies and was informed she could pay for both subjects at the school's evening institute while still attending daytime classes.
How very considerate of them! Does this make sense to you? I interpreted it as a moneymaking venture. I understand that this practice has ended at my alma mater pursuant to recommendations from the former minister of education.
Why are teachers allowed to decide if a student will pass a subject? Do our teachers' colleges now teach the gift of prophecy? Screening is done six months prior to the actual exam. Since students have ample time to prepare for it, shouldn't parents and academic mentors who are knowledgeable about their ambitions have more control over what subjects they sit? Do we realise we are screening our children out of a tertiary education and other opportunities such as employment?
A colleague of mine tried to defend this practice as a necessary evil. This reminds me of a conversation I had with the former principal of Ardenne High School, Esther Tyson, on the same matter and how she faced much opposition in abolishing the practice.
Screening only ignores the inadequacies of the education system, which includes lack of adequate resources and well-trained teachers, and explicitly tells students they are failures. A Gleaner report on August 19, 2013 revealed that in the last five years, more than 220,000 students did not sit mathematics and English exams. I suppose they, too, may have been screened out.
I remember some of my classmates pleading to teachers to give them a chance. The teachers basked in their privilege knowing our fate was in their hands. Given our social and economic reality and the national development plan, it should be mandatory for all students to sit no less than six subjects. In any case, we need to decide whether one exam taken at the end of grade 11 reflects all the learning that takes places during five years of secondary education.
EXTRA LESSONS NORMALISED
The other problem I have is that we have normalised this ridiculous practice of 'extra lessons' as the (only?) way to be successful academically. If the curriculum cannot be covered in regular classtime, the solution isn't to overwhelm students with more classes! Who does extra lessons really benefit when it's treated as a necessity, the student or teacher?
What saddens me is that already poorer students go to the least-equipped schools - sometimes with the lowest cadre of teachers - and we expect them to succeed in CXC? Many of them would have come from schools where the 40 per cent of teachers who do not have a pass in CXC mathematics populate. Preposterous! Unless there will be a miracle, some students will be left behind. And then we pretend poor people are just uninterested in becoming qualified like the rest of us (see 'Poverty has no bearing on students', Gleaner, April 23, 2013).
One of my cousins is the top GSAT student at his school. His mother could hardly afford to send him to extra lessons. Luckily for him, my mother helped out when she could. I can't help but wonder if he would have been the top student if he hadn't attended extra lessons.
At the end of the day we should all agree that a child's education should not be dependent on the teacher and school's ego for high passes and ranking.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.