Issues in primary and tertiary education

By John Spence

The new Minister of Education seems to be starting out on the right track to have highlighted the problem at the lower end of the SEA passes. He states that some 2,000 pupils obtained below 30 per cent in that examination.

The news media continue to rave over the performance at the top end (pupils obtaining over 95 per cent); as a society our concern must be for the 2,000 pupils whom the system has failed. I would be interested to know how many pupils would be expected to get below 30 per cent if they all had the environment (parenting, schooling, level of income and so on) that those above 95 per cent had.

In order to judge just how well or badly our pupils are performing at both ends of the scale one would need to know a lot more about the system of examination. For example, I am surprised that over 150 candidates would get over 95 per cent in an examination (other than one in mathematics alone).

In the United Kingdom there is concern of the standards in the Advanced Level examination and there is talk of "dumbing down"—lowering of the standards. What does scoring over 95 per cent or below 30 per cent in the SEA mean?

How many of the pupils who score below 30 per cent can neither read nor write? What percentage of those pupils writing the examination obtained between 50 per cent and 40 per cent, 40 per cent and 30 per cent and so on down to between 10 per cent and 0 per cent? It would be interesting to compare the SEA results with those of the National Test since I believe these latter carry international standards.

The fact is that to be able to pinpoint the problem one may need to undertake a great deal of research; the Ministry of Education does not have the resources or the environment to conduct such research and so the universities must be funded to undertake this vital task.

As an aside, the appointment of Ms St Rose-Greaves in the Prime Minister's office as Advocate for children is of extreme importance. It is my hope that she will be able to lobby successfully to have some of these problems researched. I must express my surprise and disappointment that a commentator in last Sunday's Express newspaper criticised the appointment of Ms St Rose-Greaves, apparently on the grounds that contract appointments in general were open to abuse.

In my article in the Express of June 3, I had suggested the appointment of Ms St Rose-Greaves in the Prime Minister's office where she would be in a position to hasten the establishment of a permanent Advocate for Children and the Children's Authority which I am confident she will do.

I shall now discuss some issues with tertiary education. In my article in the Express of July 1, I had suggested that consideration should be given for tertiary education to be reunited with the Ministry of Education as is the case in many countries and had been the case in this country until the creation of a Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education.

Does the present arrangement imply that tertiary education is only about science and technology?

However, perhaps the problems with primary and secondary education should be dealt with successfully before tertiary education is rejoined with them. In my Express article of June 11 I wrote: "What is urgently needed is a body to oversee UWI and UTT and a university council should be created such as exists in Jamaica." I have since discovered that the University Council of Jamaica is in reality an accreditation council similar to the Accreditation Council that already exists in this country. I have also discovered that in this country there is a Green Paper on the website of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education dated October 2009 but with a foreword signed by the new Minister, Senator Fazal Karim.

This Green Paper is entitled: "Policy on Tertiary Education, Technical-Vocational Education and Training, and Lifelong Learning in Trinidad and Tobago". There are some curious aspects to this development. Evidently this Green Paper has been adopted wholesale by the new Government, including the 2020 vision which the Paper uses as its starting point. In view of this I must register my disagreement, as I have done on many occasions during the time of the last PNM government, to the people of this country having as an objective that they shall be "fun loving".

While pleasure and happiness are important aspects of our well being to have "fun loving" as an objective in an important statement on our aims and objectives for development in my view sends the wrong message to our young people.

This Green Paper also proposes some developments that I have not seen in the People's Partnership Manifesto. The Green Paper states: "It is envisioned that the governance of the system will be facilitated by a single National Education Commission comprising separate but interlinked Councils to deal with all levels of education including TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training)". The Councils to be created are: Council for Tertiary Education and Training; Technical-Vocational Education and Training Council; and a National Council of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The People's Partnership Manifesto proposes under Tertiary Education that: "A National Commission for Higher Education will guide the sector and we will work with Caricom and other governments of the region, as well as the Association of Tertiary Institutions to establish a Regional Qualifications Framework and to strengthen quality in a diverse system across the world."

This is quite a different concept from that proposed in the Green Paper and if all of these proposals were to be adopted there would be "overload" in the system!

The Green Paper was prepared apparently for the previous government by technocrats who no doubt did an excellent job. However, when will political parties develop their own policies based on their political philosophy which could be discussed subsequently by technocrats? It might have been wiser for the People's Partnership Government to tread more slowly and to develop and articulate its own philosophy and programme for the governance of the education system.

I have been invited to a consultation on the Green Paper and so shall reserve further comment until after those discussions.

• Prof John Spence is a

retired UWI lecturer. He is also

a former Independent Senator

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