If the right to information is important in any matter at all, it is in the field of Education that it is important most of all

The Cambridge School Certificate 2018 results

By Paramanund Soobarah

The detailed MES School Certificate (SC) 2018 results statistics have a complication that I find difficult to interpret. To begin with this year (as the last) the tables have been provided in pdf format: this makes processing very difficult. (Is it part of government policy to make the processing of statistics difficult?) Then, adding up the total number of students sent to the SC exams by the various schools we get a total of 15,371. However, when the numbers of students who sat for the two separate English papers are added up, the total comes to 18,632. Similarly, the numbers of those who sat for the two separate mathematics papers add up to 18,477. And the number of those sat for the single French Language paper stands at 18585. They are all said to be school candidates. The discrepancy is more than 3000! There must be some reason behind it, but it escapes my understanding.

While the results make sad reading in general, we must first salute what is good in them. Girls have done much better than boys in almost every subject. This is exemplified in a most emphatic manner by the performance of the Queen Elizabeth College girls. The College sent 154 girls to the SC exams; of course all of them passed, but a full 45 of them achieved a score of 6, i.e. 29.2% of them; and no less than 147, i.e. 95.5% of them, achieved a score of 20 or better: a truly outstanding performance.

The same cannot be said of the boys of our Royal Colleges, who jointly sent 263 candidates to the exams. Only 42 of them achieved a score of 6, i.e. 15.9% of them – percentage-wise, practically half of what the QEC achieved. Their performance for scores up to 20 was more encouraging in figures: it was achieved by 223 of them – but percentage-wise it was still not as good as the girls’: the boys’ score was only 84.8%, as against 95.5% for the girls.

Not only that: the girls of the Droopnath Ramphul and Dr Maurice Curé State Colleges have also done better than the Royal Colleges in the matter of 6-20 scores. Table 1 shows the colleges whose candidates scored passes with aggregates of 6 units and their numbers; it also shows the colleges where at least 10 candidates scored aggregates of between 6 and 20 units. I have added the letters B and G against their names to show whether they are boys or girls schools in so far as I have been able to find out. As some colleges are mixed, it is not possible to simply add up the numbers to show accurately which gender has done better overall. But the general impression is girls have done better than boys nationally.

This impression is more than confirmed by Table 2, which shows performance in the 25 most popular subjects by boys and girls separately. The hashes indicate those entries where the number of girls exceeds that of boys. It is clear that both in terms of the number of candidates sitting the exams and the number of them passing with credit scores of 1 to 6, girls are more numerous.

In spite of the limit of 25 imposed by space restriction on the number of subjects in Table 2, it reveals a certain amount of lopsidedness in the choice of subjects. Does the Ministry of Education (MOE) have any policy regarding subjects to be offered by our children – beyond insistence on English and Mathematics? There seems to be too few takers for the basic science subjects (Physics, Chemistry and Biology). Are we going to have sufficient engineers and doctors in future? The same also applies to English and French Literatures; History and Geography are not even in the table. Only 164 pupils offered Geography and 58 of them passed with a credit score better than 6.

The situation with History was worse: only 57 candidates offered it and just one-third of them passed satisfactorily. The situation with Statistics, a subject which could easily be integrated in Elementary Mathematics from Form I, is still worse: only 22 candidates offered the subject, and of these only 14 passed. These are problems that we have highlighted for decades. I recall that I had drawn attention to them in an article in MT headed ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’ in 2006 or thereabouts.

Various education reforms have dealt with the format of education, but none so far as I am aware with the meat of it, that is to say with what is being taught and how. The latest reform (Nine Year Schooling) makes it still more difficult to address the problem. All students must be taught a wide range of subjects all the way from Form I to Form IV. It would seem that the preferences of children are “dictated” by private tutors who advise those subjects they are competent in. Apparently no private tutor is competent in History, Geography or Statistics! And apparently also, most of them advise against Science subjects. They decide education policy – not the MOE.

The following figures may be of interest. 47 colleges (all shown in Table 1) had 10 or more candidates with aggregate scores of 6 to 20, with a total 6798 pupils, with 2228 of them scoring aggregates of 6-20; the 139 candidates with aggregate scores of just 6 belonged to just 20 colleges. There were another 47 colleges in the 6-20 units league (not shown), each with 9 or fewer candidates with that score (totaling 4750 pupils with 160 of them with aggregates of 6-20). The number of colleges without any candidate with aggregate score of 6-20 was 72, and they had 3823 pupils between them.

The method used for displaying aggregate scores is unfair to many schools, as scores of 21-36 are still quite honorable achievements in our system of education. The wider public that takes an interest in education is not interested in the precise number of candidates with aggregate score figures of 13 or 17. The results in bands of 6 units would be more useful. The column showing exactly 6 units should be preserved; the remainder could be shown in the bands 7-12, 13-18, 19-24, 25-30, 31-36, 37-42, 43-48, 49-54. This would be more useful to observers, and fairer to colleges. (I remember that in 2011 or thereabouts a more comprehensive system was tried but the table was too unwieldy.)

Some general observations on Education Statistics may be in order. It is well known that the number of children joining the government schooling system is declining year by year but readers may not realize the precise extent of the decline. Around the year 2000 – when an MMM-MSM government came to power – the annual intake was around 30,000. Now it has dropped to nearly half of that – to less than 16,000 in 2018. The MMM-MSM government of 2000, expecting the student population size to continue at that level or perhaps even to increase, launched into a massive school building programme. Nobody will fault them for that, as the extension of free secondary education to all children by Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam in the 70s had brought about a massive influx into our colleges.

Even so, one should not be surprised that with the decline that has taken place in our student population some classrooms may have teachers but few or no pupils. This year the problem will be made worse by the question of the number of Credits required to join the HSC classes. While we approve of the raising of standards, that must be achieved by better teaching in lower classes with annual class-to-class promotion being made subject to satisfactory performance in internal assessments.

One important point in this connection is that we still do not know, in the school performance results provided, the number pupils who have scored credits and in what numbers in each school. Parents, as well as the public in general, are interested in two issues:
1) the number of children with credit in English and 1, 2, 3,… 8 other subjects, and
2) their number without credit in English but credit in 1, 2, 3, or more subjects. The current performance tables providing just the percentage of passes fools nobody except perhaps the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate (MES) and the MOE.

We wish to draw attention to the cavalier manner in which the MES treats the results of national examinations. These results with all their details are the property of the nation with the government as custodian. They must be made available to the public in full, in a manner that helps one to process them and interpret their significance fully, as soon as they become known. The MES Director, or other functionaries at the MOE, or even the Minister of Education for that matter, cannot withhold them for a single instant.

If the right to information is important in any matter at all, it is in the field of education that it is important most of all. We remind all concerned that it was the education policies of the MMM-MSM government of 2000-2005, with their “rat race” slogan, their ridiculous and unfair zoning system, their restricted sixth-form colleges, etc., that were principally responsible for bringing their government down. We still have to see what happens to the present government after the consequences of its Nine-Year-Schooling System-cum-Academies and the dismal performance at the SC exams, etc., are fully known and digested.

One final point about education statistics. The public never gets to know the numbers concerning the children of families who shun the government system of education altogether; the number and size of schools supporting such families seems to be growing. Nobody can blame these families given the parlous state of the national education system. The Government has a duty to provide the vital statistics relating to the number of births and school admissions in the country to the public.

* Published in print edition on 15 February 2019

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