The extraordinary — indeed, unprecedented — improvement in primary school education could well indicate a revolutionary transformation of Trinidad and Tobago. According to an Academic Performance Index (API) report presented on Monday by Education Minister Tim Gopeesingh, the number of primary schools classified as "excelling" has moved from 15 to a whopping 121, while the number on "academic watch" dropped from 120 to just 28. And all this happened in just 12 months.
Needless to say, this bodes well for the future. These figures would mean that, in a few years, pass rates in national examinations should improve drastically. So more than one per cent of Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) students should score over 95 per cent in the 2014 exam, and, by 2019, more than half should get five or more subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam, which implies more young people doing the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) and getting a tertiary education. And this better educated population of the new generation should transform the economy and even the social mores of the nation.
But all this is contingent on the API figures being reliable, and only if they indicate a trend that will continue in secondary school and beyond.
In announcing these findings, Dr Gopeesingh offered a broad explanation as to how this incredible improvement was achieved in such a short space of time. The main factors he cited were discussions with stakeholders; the movement of the date of the SEA examination from March to May; filling of teacher vacancies; improved infrastructure; and individual initiatives by principals and their teachers.
On the flip side, however, when asked about the main reasons for under-performance by students, Dr Gopeesingh listed the school environment, poor infrastructure, inadequate teachers' training and application to their work, principals' management of the schools, and poor parenting. Except for infrastructure and efforts by teachers and principals, there thus seems to be a mismatch between the limiting factors in pedagogical progress and the initiatives taken to solve the problems.
Additionally, in support of the claim of improvement in the primary education sector, the API Report noted that T&T had participated in the 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the results showed that "Significant gains have been made since the previous study in 2006". While that is so, the PIRLS survey also ranked T&T 36th out of the 45 participating nations, and found that only 21 per cent of the Standard Three students posted above average scores, hence putting us among the 12 countries whose students scored below the benchmark.
The 2012 API Report suggests this poor showing has now changed, though. If so, the Education Ministry has truly wrought a pedagogical miracle.