Exams and schooling

The dust is settling down from the reactions to the results of the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), and the CXC’s CSEC and CAPE exams released last week. Rather than parsing the specific performances, some comments on the form and content of those exams are in order. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II should remind us of their provenance – Britain, which ruled us from the beginning of the 19th Century. The Christian missionaries, in charge of the educational system from the beginning, generally modified the contents of the curricula to help ensure that the newly-freed slaves and the indentured labourers who replaced them in the plantations (which were the raison d’être for the colony) saw that the order in the colony were “for their own good”, since they were being tutored for their own upliftment.
Queen’s College was founded not coincidentally in 1847 for boys and Bishops’ in 1870 for girls by the Anglican Church to cater to the educational needs of the elite to run the Civil Service or enter “the professions”. The Portuguese indentured labourers quickly decamped the plantations to establish businesses in Georgetown and their Church formed the Catholic Grammar School in 1866 which grew into St Stanislaus College by 1907. Their nuns formed St Rose’s High School as early as 1847 for females. It is a shame that even though all schools were nationalised in 1976, all schools have not been raised to the same level and these schools are still considered the premier schools that receive the top performers of the NGSA from across the entire country.
Some years ago, the Ministry of Education (MoE) had announced that it was going to rectify this situation by bringing all secondary schools across the country to the same standards in terms of qualified personnel and equipment.  Primary schools would then send their graduates to the nearest secondary school. That such an approach is feasible is demonstrated in the performance of a Government secondary school – Anna Regina Multilateral School (ARMS) – and a private secondary school – Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN) – over the last few years. The MoE should craft a plan – including a timeline – for equalising the resources of all secondary schools. All secondary schools must offer a CAPE curriculum.
In terms of the NGSA, which offers four subjects – English, Maths, Social Studies and Science – for assessment of the performance of our children, the results in Mathematics continue to be abysmal – more than half of the graduates fail the exam. This has been going on for far too long, and there have been several interventions, which have obviously also failed. The MoE will have to keep on working on this. Finally, the NGSA must be used for what it was designed: identify strengths and weaknesses of the students entering our secondary schools, where appropriate attention can be provided.
In the equalised, CAPE-equipped secondary schools there should be a complete overhaul of the curriculum to cater for the new economy and lifestyles in the globalised world that we are entering. Take, for instance, the “Humanities” subjects which the colonial state gave much attention: in the developed countries, these are being jettisoned exponentially. The focus must be on the subjects that are technologically oriented and those that train graduates to actually work with both their hands and brains. The old colonial disparagement of working with one’s hands must be reversed. “Practical” subjects must not be viewed as only suitable for those who cannot excel academically.
Finally, we must now aim for all students to complete at least three CAPE subjects for matriculation.