Nine-year Schooling Plan
The most significant aspects of the recently announced nine-year schooling education system are the number of name changes and the complicated, multi-coloured flow diagrams. The thrust of the changes is, as expected, an intention to improve the lot of the 30% who do not get beyond the CPE.
Good luck to the 30% and good luck also to the Minister, but we strongly doubt whether the desired and promised results will be achieved in any real sense. All that will happen is that every child will be propelled into what has hitherto been deemed as secondary education. We have no problem at all with that; these will come three years later, and they are likely to be the same ones as before.
We still think that much could have been done for that group of our fellow-citizens. First and foremost ensure the proper training of pre-primary teachers. In addition to whatever pedagogical training they are given, they must trained like nurses to really care for the little ones assigned to them, treating each like an individual patient. They should also be trained in the phonetics and phonology of English, French and an Asian language. All this would not come cheap: properly trained pre-primary teachers should be paid at least as much as university lecturers.
About the children themselves, the first task is to ensure that all children have pre-primary attention as from the age of three, particularly those whose parents cannot afford private schooling at that age. On formal admission at the age of five, it should be possible to determine whether some children are in need of special attention; those so identified should be given the special attention they require. Further assessments should be carried out at the ends of Standards 2 and 4, and all found to require additional attention should be given such attention. Those still requiring further attention at the end of Standard 5 should be made to double that class. At the end of Standard 6, all should pupils should be put through the same examination. We are confident that such a system would bring the CPE failures to 5% or less. Extending special attention to a proportion of our cohorts that could reach 30% is not going to be cheap. We should agree to meet the commitment cheerfully, at least on humanitarian grounds. And whatever may be the amount, it is much less that what it costs the nation materially and morally to cope with the problems arising from inadequate education of a large part of the population in early childhood.
The real problem with the new plan is that we have not seen any aspect of it which will have the least effect on the very serious weaknesses our national education system is suffering from today, namely the high failure and weak pass rate of our cohorts at the School Certificate, the inability of our children to converse fluently in English and French, their low understanding of mathematics, and their disregard of computer studies.
Last year, of the 18645 pupils who sat for the English Language papers at the Cambridge School Certificate exams, 2321 failed outright and 7071 scored grades 7 or 8 (just passes), making a total of 9392, i.e. approximately 50% with less than adequate command of the language. It is the duty of the government to turn these figures around, i.e. to make at least 50% of our cohorts score grade 4 or better, instead of just the 23% that did so last year. Should this come about, we believe that the performance of the remaining 50% also will improve.
The figures for mathematics are even worse. One third of the cohort (6309) failed outright, and more than a quarter (5060) scored 7 or 8. More than half of our cohorts cross the School Certificate threshold with less than adequate knowledge of elementary mathematics. Again, the government has a duty to turn these figures around. At least 50% of our cohorts should score 4 or better, instead of just the 22%.
Even in French, the results are not as good as we would have expected. Nearly one-sixth of the cohort failed outright, and nearly one-third (5578) scored 7 or 8. Only one-third (6514) scored 4 or better. Here again, the results demand effort for improvement.
Does anyone have to make a case for orienting more pupils towards Computer Studies? From our eighteen thousand odd cohort, less than one-third (5869) chose to sit for the subject, with only about 6% of the cohort (1127) scoring 4 or better. Is that how we are going to become an IT leading light in the region?
These are the areas which are crying out for improvement. No case has now to be made for our nation to be fully conversant with spoken and written English, but the actual situation regarding the spread of spoken English in the country is alarming. Anecdotal evidence paints a very bleak picture of our new or recent UOM graduates in this language. It would not be correct to rely entirely on such evidence to come any conclusion, and therefore is it paramount for the Government to conduct a survey to establish the facts. Such a survey really ought to be conducted by an independent party like the British Council. But I would like to mention here one anecdote which is really heart-breaking.
A tertiary level institution was conducting an interview of UOM graduates for a post of IT instructor. One candidate, with two degrees, surprised the interviewers by remaining silent throughout the interview, even though they coaxed him as kindly as possible to elicit some response from him. Dead silence throughout. At the end, when the interviewers were bidding him good-bye, he spoke and said: “Est-ce qui mo capave dire dé trois mots en Créole?” Someone said “Thank you, interview’s over!”. When the “One Graduate per Family” policy was announced by the Labour government, somebody facetiously suggested that UOM would be opening a new office to send out degrees by post to one applicant per every family provided he or she held a CPE certificate. Was the facetiousness misplaced?
Monitoring the progress of the country through statistics and otherwise is an essential function of the Ministry of Education. The mechanics of the statistical work may be left to the MES but the task of addressing problems brought up must remain that of the Ministry. I think it was HG Wells who said that education is far too important to be left to academics. We also think that it should not be left to bureaucrats or politicians either. The Brindaban Linguistic and Cultural Genocide Watch Group, which set itself up initially to assure the survival of the Bhojpuri language in the country, has extended its field of activity to view other aspects of education as well. Thus is it that when views were sought for the 2008-2020 plan, we responded with a paper.
- Published in print edition on 28 August 2015