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Teaching responsibility?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think,” said Albert Einstein. So where are we in T&T?

CSEC/CXC is the educational benchmark that is used to determine employment eligibility for most jobs. Therefore, it is an important educational target and a benchmark to measure success, both individual and institutional. The announcement that approximately 58 per cent of those who sat CSEC (16,042 from government and government-assisted schools) received five or more subjects is worrisome. It means that nearly half of those who sat (42 per cent), did not achieve five passes… and we must remember that grades 1-3 count as passes.

But this 58 per cent statistic does not provide the information needed to manage the education system. We are not told how many of those students passed mathematics and English. Without these two basic subjects, graduates may be in trouble as the basic qualification for a position in the government or private sector is five passes, which must include Mathematics, English and one science subject.

The number of students graduating from CSEC to post-secondary (CAPE) tells us a bit more. Approximately 5,000 may be qualified for CAPE.

Disaggregating achievement by schools and districts would give a fuller picture; how are students doing and how the system is performing thereby helping us to manage it better. Such data seems a secret. This cannot be due to any difficulty in statistical analysis in the 21st century; basic computer programming can provide information on a wide range of variables and that information ought to available and published as a matter of routine.

The MoE must have this data. The question must be asked what are they doing with this data? How are they converting it into information? How are they using it to manage the system better?

Information provided by the prestige denominational schools Hindu, Muslim, or Christian reveals that graduates meeting the five passes requirement surpass 75 per cent on an ongoing basis. That means that there are many schools who are not getting that 58 per cent average. Indeed, there are schools where less than ten per cent of the students are getting five passes perennially. We must find ways to intervene and improve the performance levels of these schools.

This is not to blame or shame any school or teacher; we will be worse off if this is the result. Schools achieving less than the average rate have learners with much more personal, social and academic challenges and weak teachers or both. This is true both at the primary and secondary level. The society needs to be made aware and the country must be informed as to the kinds of holistic interventions undertaken to improve these situations.

These latter schools are the ones with large dropout rates which can be as high as 40-50 per cent. Without intervention, and without accountability this problem festers and makes a significant contribution to violent crime in the country. If you are a plumber and you make a bad connection, you can always replace the line. It does not work that way with parenting or teaching and it takes a much longer time to repair the damage. Debbie Jacob has much to say on this in her experience as a remedial teacher.

There is the also issue of the mindset and outlook of our students, including the successful ones; have we educated citizens? While we wish more students to achieve examination success, we also have a problem with socialising all our students in ethical behaviours. This failing has been recognised by many of the world’s business schools who have recognised that the world is also about ethical behaviours. Further, many institutions of higher learning are recruiting students who not only meet academic requirements but also have strong extracurricular achievements.

While those who do not achieve success at school may wreak havoc with guns and knives, some of the more successful wreak greater havoc differently. Examples abound; persons in the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands are accused of self-dealing; a senior YTEPP officer misrepresents before a parliamentary committee; in Petrotrin substantial discrepancies are discovered by the audit team in payment for undelivered oil; millions in “payroll irregularities” at more than one regional corporation are discovered leading criminal charges; a favoured contractor of the previous administration flees. Public activity for private gain.

The culture of greed and individualism is not a job entirely for schools. It is a total societal problem and is reflected in more insidious ways throughout our daily life. Four hundred years ago, the Caribbean Sea teemed with pirates, buccaneers and privateers; perhaps they morphed with independence.

Whatever problems we face, they are ours now and cannot be blamed on colonialism, race or religion. Even if we do, that exercise is futile as it does not lead to a solution. Some we inherited, some we have created. Naipaul must be watching on in amusement. The watchwords, discipline, production, tolerance, remain as important as ever. Leadership and management, always necessary, are greatly needed.


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