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Ending the cycle of failure

Reforming our education system
TRAVIS CARTWRIGHT-CARROLL
Guardian Staff Reporter
travis@nasguard.com

Published: Oct 02, 2013

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The national exam results worsened this year.  The decline was of great public interest when the results were announced in August.

Many Bahamians were outraged and talk radio was overwhelmed with complaints.  But now the issue has faded from public interest.  That is, until next year when the results are published again.  Poor results have become the norm, students failing the most basic of subjects: mathematics and English.

Former education ministers Carl Bethel, Desmond Bannister, Alfred Sears and the current minister, Jerome Fitzgerald, have lamented the poor results at one point or another.

But the question must be asked, how can those results change for the better?

Erin Tenniel, a high school English teacher at a local government school, said teachers must understand that literacy isn’t limited to English language and literature classes.

“English teachers teach concepts but neglect to facilitate critical engagement using these concepts,” she said.

“Students are left with a heap of information that means nothing to them.  We have to help them appreciate the value in what they learn.

“Reading should be at the top of the list, and reading that challenges students to go beyond memorization and repetition.  Instead, students should analyze, synthesize and treat the information as the beginning to a larger discussion.  Presently we have none of that.”

According to the latest test scores for the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) for 2013, the average math grade is an E and the average English grade is a D.

Fitzgerald has said that he is not satisfied with the recent scores, particularly in math.

“Our focus, we feel, or I feel to a large extent, has been on literacy.  And as a result we have continued to see a steady increase in our English language results,” Fitzgerald said.

“In the Department of Education we must accept some responsibility for the deficiencies in our mathematics results and our ministry’s failure to implement required strategies to improve not only teaching but also our results in this area.”

A former principal, religious studies teacher and administrator, Glenn Lightbourne, said the system must not only look at exam results, but also “improving the person as a person”.

“I know mathematics, I think, can be more practical or applied to something that students like,” he said.  “For example, technical drawing contains elements of math.  In the past we’ve had 100 percent passes in that subject.  However, the same students turn around and produce poor results in math.

“We had a student who took our English examination and failed, but got good grades in other subjects.

“If our English had a balance of comprehension and application, he may have passed.  He is not the best writer, but he is not an F student either.”

Lightbourne said when he studied in Trinidad, students who were recommended for an exam did not have to pay for the test.  Those who were not had to.

“That was a way of weeding out those who may have failed,” he said.  “It’s important to identify those students who qualify for the exams also.”

He said simply raising the results of the exams would not mean that schools would yield better students.

“In any society you want to look at improving a person as a person.”

In New Providence there has been a surge in the murder rate.  Police lament that for every life snuffed out, hundreds are affected by the loss.  In some of those homes children suffer because of the violence.

Lightbourne said the school system isn’t geared towards addressing such needs.

“It should be designed that their needs aren’t ignored,” he said.  “Nothing is designed in our schools to acknowledge those problems, though.”


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