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Our Jamaica

High schools failing to prepare students for what’s next

Published:Tuesday | May 4, 2021 | 1:32 AMTameka Gordon/Senior Staff Reporter

In the wake of a Gleaner story that revealed the way teachers had been 'helping' students get good grades on their School-Based Assessment, the island's universities have come out to point out that the high school experience has not been allowing students the preparation they need to survive at the university level. In short, teachers have been failing their students.   

Published May 2, 2021

'It's a big joke'

  • Too much emphasis on CSEC, CAPE grades and not concepts, lecturers complain

  • Basic deficiencies found even in top performers entering university

STUDENTS MATRICULATING as undergraduates at the tertiary level are increasingly presenting with skill gaps not consistent with their qualifications obtained in high-school exit examinations and many are unprepared for the intensity and academic rigour expected at that level, some university lecturers say.

The lecturers, who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on condition of anonymity, say they have, over the years, observed a deficiency in the comprehension and analytical skills as well as t he English language proficiency of students.

“There is a deficiency in the students. The way in which they are being taught and prepared does not prepare them for university. This level of study is intense, so when you have to now go and do remedial stuff in terms of reading and comprehension, then you have a huge problem,” one lecturer said.

Citing the inability of many students to transfer learning and apply analysis required for academic rigour, the lecturers contend that the quality of passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) does not necessarily equate to competence the students need at the tertiary level.

“There is too much attention being placed on getting grades and not so much on the development of the students. What we are seeing now is because of that, you may have a student getting a grade one in the exam, but they really don't know anything. Put the concepts of the exam in a different context and they are completely lost,” one university lecturer said.

“This goes to show that they don't really understand the concepts. They are just looking for associations and [while] that will guarantee that they pass the exam, it does not guarantee that when they get to university – where they have to read, comprehend and analyse – that they actually have the skills, so there is a huge gap,” the lecturer said.

EMPHASIS ON GRADES

They contend that there is too much emphasis on the grades students receive and not enough on the “quality of learning”.

“We look at the grades, but we never look at the outcomes. They go into jobs, but how do their employers view t hem? Can they go elsewhere with these qualifications?” one lecturer reasoned.

Another lecturer noted that the situation has grown quite grim in the last few years.

“The quality of students being accepted into university has been deteriorating. Students come in with a grade one in English language and English literature and they can't write a sentence in English,” bemoaned t he educator.

The lecturers were speaking with The Sunday Gleaner in the wake of last week's report of secondary school teachers opting to make significant adjustments to school-based assessments (SBA) for CSEC candidates to ensure good pass rates and suitable school rankings.

The teachers contend that with the poor quality of work submitted by some students – many of whom have been seriously affected by connectivity issues in the remote learning arrangement in place for

“What we are seeing now is because of that, you may have a student getting a grade one in the exam, but they really don't know anything.”

more than a year now – they have no other option but to do the work themselves.

“If we are to send in the work that the students give us, many of them would fail,” one St Catherine-based teacher said, adding that “fixing up the SBAs” for students has not been necessitated only by the current pandemic but by a historical need precipitated by the placement of students with very low scores from the primary-school exit examination at the school that she teaches.