Can we as a nation accept that 70% or a large majority of students taking part in SC and GCE O-Level exams do not make the cut to pursue higher studies?
By Mrinal Roy
The benchmark of five credits at the School Certificate (SC) and GCE O-Level exams is the mandatory minimum requirement for students to have access to Grade 12 (Lower VI) in 2020. Higher education is a passport for improved prospects and a better quality of life. A poor performance by a large number of the 2019 batch of students has thwarted the hopes of thousands of students.
Successive governments after independence have had the responsibility of establishing a well-thought out education system anchored on a school environment conducive to learning, curricula benchmarked on the highest standards prevailing in the world, state-of-the-art methods of teaching, well-trained and competent teachers having the pedagogical skills to trigger a yearning for learning and knowledge among students to enable them to develop the full potential of their intellect.
Instead of building on the intrinsic strengths of our education system to benchmark and upgrade it on the best learning and pedagogical norms prevailing in the world, various Ministers and governments have tinkered with it and recast it over the last decades according to their own reform blueprint and criteria. The upshot is that we are today as a nation faced with the shocking reality that out of the 18,659 students who took part in the SC and GCE O-Level exams at the end of 2019, only 5518 or 30% of the students obtained the mandatory 5 credits required to have access to Grade 12 (Lower IV) classes.
This appalling statistic exposes the crying shortcomings of our education system and begs so many burning questions. It is above all quite flabbergasting that despite various reforms of the education system initiated by diverse governments, only 3 out of 10 students in 2019 managed to make the cut to accede to Lower IV classes 51 years after independence. This subpar result is above all a scathing indictment of the education system in place. Are the pedagogical methods used, the quality of teaching, the school environment and state of school discipline not conducive to learning?
Can we afford to accept in a country where the only valuable resource is our human resources that 70% of each generation of students are unable through subpar exams results to pursue post SC and higher education to improve their own prospects of obtaining a better job and their general well-being through better education?
Can we as a nation accept that 70% or a large majority of students taking part in SC and GCE O-Level exams are unable to make the cut to pursue higher studies and are therefore unable to contribute as citizens more pointedly through their diverse qualifications and well-honed skills to the advancement of the country and the common good?
A closer look at the results reveals that among the 13,141 students who obtained only 4 credits or less, there were 4,461 students who did not obtain any credit whereas 5340 obtained only one or 2 credits. These 9,801 students represent some 53% or more than half of the 18,659 students who took part in the 2019 SC and GCE O-Level exams. This is a deplorable state of affairs.
These results should be an eye opener for those basking in the glory of the purported success of the reforms of the education system. This is not the time for homilies to remonstrate the students who did not obtain the required 5 credits and chastise their lack of focus on their studies despite benefitting from free education, free transport and other support measures from government
The subpar exam results also reflect poorly on the system of education in place, the quality and commitment of teachers, the pedagogical methods used to interest and motivate students to develop a culture of learning and an unwavering quest for knowledge and excellence.
The education system must therefore ensure that the process of learning and acquiring knowledge primarily takes place in the class at school and not through private tuition. An overdependence on private tuition is an indictment of the pedagogical environment and the quality of teaching and process of learning at school.
These deplorable results also have far-reaching consequences on the secondary education sector. It should be flagged that the 5518 students who have obtained the required 5 credits to have access to Grade 12 (Lower IV) classes will for the most be absorbed by some 69 State Secondary Schools in the country. If the intake of every State Secondary school in Lower VI is a minimum of 80 students each, the totality of the 5518 eligible students will be absorbed by them. This will further squeeze and reduce the intake of private secondary schools to Grade 12 to a minimum leaving most of them in limbo and further undermining their survival despite the costly investments made in science labs and other specialist rooms for Grade 12 and 13 students.
It must in this context be remembered that private secondary schools have contributed immensely to the secondary education sector by providing access as from the 1950s to secondary education to large sections of the population who had been denied the right to secondary school education before Independence because access was limited to a few State secondary and confessional secondary schools in the country. Private secondary schools have thus helped the emancipation of the young through education and enabled them to be alive to the political battle for freedom and the cause and vote for the independence of the country.
A large number of the young graduating with their School Certificate from private secondary schools thus joined the public services and helped man the government services after independence. The students graduating from private secondary schools continue over decades to contribute in diverse fields to the advancement of the country including in some of the highest posts of the republic.
Private secondary schools have thus put their school assets to the service of secondary education in the country over decades and continue to be a key partner of the secondary education sector. However, despite their singular contribution to secondary education in the country over decades, several private secondary schools have been forced to close down. This situation will worsen over time.
On the flip side, the results also beg the question of what happens to the 13,141 students who did not make the cut of the minimum requirement of 5 credits. Some will certainly repeat the School Certificate. There has also been glib talk that these students can enrol in the various polytechnic institutions and other technical training facilities in the country. What is the actual ground reality of such opportunities?
For example the Montagne Blanche Polytechnic has a student population of about 1000. What is its annual intake of students? What about the mismatch between the SC results obtained and the requirements for admission to these various technical institutions? There are also constraints of commuting as the Montagne Blanche polytechnics is not easily accessible for students living in the south or the west of the country. What happens to the vast number of students who cannot be admitted for technical studies?
It is therefore vital that government comes out clean on the actual annual intake of all these technical institutions as well as a plan regarding the way forward for the 13,141 students who did not obtain 5 credits in 2019 and all future generations of students who do not qualify to join Grade 12.
More fundamentally, the present low rate of students obtaining 5 credits is not acceptable for a country aspiring to become a high-income economy through a reengineering of the economy to maximize value addition in the services sectors and through high-end industries which require a higher level of qualifications and skills. There is therefore an urgent need to address the core problem of significantly improving the percentage of students of each generation who obtain the required 5 credits to have access to Grade 12 and pursue tertiary education.
The crying reality behind the results of the SC and GCE O-Level exams is grim. It exposes the many failings of the reformed education system. It thwarts the aspirations of a majority of young students and hobbles the prospects of the country. It also undermines the future of private secondary schools. Bold corrective steps have to be urgently taken to address all these related issues in a holistic manner in consultation with all the stakeholders and to significantly increase the number of students of each generation who meet the benchmark of five credits to pursue higher studies.
A well-structured education system has to be a potent vector of individual and professional development through learning, economic growth and prosperity. The status quo is therefore patently detrimental to the country and the future prospects of the young.