The Education Debate of 2012

First Published: 2012-09-21

The Education Debate of 2012 as seen in the nation’s press has been centered on the validity of the single letter grade for the annual Bahamas General Certificate Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams. For instance, two separate letters-to-the-editor critical of the author’s view appeared in The Tribune last Thursday.

This memo contends that this discussion is not very fruitful since the issue of academic underachievement in the Public school system is so critical to the nation’s development.

Background

The Education Act requires the Minister of Education to report annually to Parliament on “the work of his ministry and the state of Education generally.” The 1994/1995 report, the first available to the author, used 19-pages to discuss organization, staff and spending while only a portion of the BGCSE test results was included in three Annexes. The overall mean grade of “D minus” was not mentioned; and one sentence described the test results…

“Although a significant number of students show a notable understanding of the material needed to pass the exams, more research is needed in the development of a scheme to assist those who exhibit a lack of knowledge of the relevant subject matter.”

Such a comment is an unbelievable under-statement of the learning problem, specifically the level of illiteracy or what students actually learn and can do.

In subsequent reports the dreaded single letter grade was all that was reported; but more recently a discussion of math and English test results has been included. Unfortunately for the country –

  • Only a limited improvement has been recorded; and
  • The annual BGCSE exam results have never been supplemented by data on student grades actually earned, high school diplomas awarded, student “drop-out” rates, illiteracy, etc.

The Ministry’s Public Requests

The Coalition for Education Reform from late 2004 to 2007 was made up of seven different business and labour organizations under the leadership of J Barrie Farrington and Pat Bain.

Responding to a 2004 public request by the Minister for “Ideas on Education in the 21st Century”, it define the problem and proposed remedies in two major studies (see them here…). It took the Ministry six months to acknowledge receipt of the first; and it paid scant attention to the second.

Since then the author has produced 18 other reports and articles. (Download them here – pdf…) Again…in response to a public request by the Department of Education, they have been submitted to the Minister for inclusion in the Ministry’s electronic database and are also available on the Nassau Institute and Bahamas b2b websites.

Conclusions

One can only conclude that –

  • The Ministry of Education’s annual reports on “the state of Education generally” have consistently “under-stated” the poor academic performance of the public schools and the dire consequences for the nation.
  • Yes, the single letter grade may have technical flaws as stated by Dr Ruthmae Sears in “The BGCSE illusion” (see The Tribune of August 28, 2012). But…I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the single BGCSE grade has falsely described reality.
  • Experts like Dr. Sears are desperately needed to address the substance of the problem, to raise public awareness and to develop effective remedial programs. The reason that this is so important is that the existing stakeholders have such strong interest in avoiding reality, defending the status quo and “not rocking the political boat.”

Friday, September 21, 2012.

 

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