Our education system is inherently unequal and inequitable

Dear Editor,

While 10,368 students took the CSEC exams and 671 students took the CAPE, our Ministry of Education annually celebrated a small percentage of academically and intellectually gifted students who performed well on the exams. CSEC and CAPE. These “gifted and talented” (as we would call them in the US) students attributed success to extra lessons and “a lot of extra-curricular material.” While the national average for writing at the CSTC is 6 subjects per student, the ministry focused on 28 “crème de la crème” students who wrote 14 to 27 subjects and passed first and second grades.

At CSEC 2022, only 213 out of 10,368 students passed the first year in 8 or more subjects. These high-scoring students make us proud. Apparently, this small group was able to get help from outside the school to do extra subjects outside of school hours. These are the students who succeed not “because” of our instructional design but “despite” the conditions of their schools. Trinidad said it would not do its usual celebrations this year, but Guyana said it would continue with its “dog and pony” show. The idea is that the “halo effect” will make the handful of good performers appear to be representative of overall progress. The truth is that some of the 10,368 students were likely in mourning due to unsatisfactory performance, including failures in math and/or English.

The ministry was careful not to give statistics on the number of pupils passing 5 subjects or more by region. We have not yet seen the disaggregation of the results by schools and regions. These statistics are important because they give an idea of ​​how many of the 10,368 students meet the basic requirements for employment or higher education. Comparisons between schools and regions will help us identify inequalities in education and can lead to direct data-driven interventions. Maybe the UG Department of Education will do some data analysis for us. Only 213 of the 10,368 students who took the exams scored eight or more on the CSEC exams. “Schools in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine have failed to reduce the number of students reaching more than eight grades.” Why? It is simply unacceptable.

The overall pass rate for soft and hard skills for grades 1-3 at CSTC was 68.5%, which means the failure rate was 31.5%. It’s not good. The major problem with our education system is that it is inherently unequal and inequitable, and designed to produce failures. Too many gaps exist in the system after 33 years of PNC and 25 years of PPP. There are two Guyanas in education services – better-endowed and well-resourced urban schools that receive preferential treatment from the ministry, and struggling and underfunded rural schools in areas that have tendency to vote PPP.

One measure of program quality is “academic rigor”. Out of 116 secondary schools in Guyana, only 12 schools (10%) offer CAPE programs which is a higher level than CSEC. A school that has both CSEC and CAPE will have a more rigorous curriculum and higher quality of teaching than a school with only CSEC. Only 671 students took the CAPE in 2022, compared to 723 candidates in 2021, i.e. an 8% drop in exams. Ninety percent of our secondary schools and most of our regions do not offer CAPE. Nine schools offer 20 to 26 CAPE subjects, with the exception of Anna Regina Sec. with 9 CAPE subjects, West Demerara Sec. with 12 subjects and St. Joseph’s with 17. Why does Anna Regina only have 9 subjects compared to Georgetown schools with an average of 23 subjects? Same question for West Dem. Second. We must end these inequalities now.

There does not appear to be a fast-track plan to address equity in education. Instead of bolstering secondary schools across the country outside of Region 4, the department is adding a new $103 million annex building at Queens College and a $95.4 million building at Bishops High. Although this may be a good thing, it does not solve the equity problem; it perpetuates iniquity. How about better buildings at Corentyne High (Chadisingh School), Winifred Gaskin Sec. in Manchester, Skeldon High, Tagore Memorial High, Black Bush, Bush Lot, Leguan, Wakenaam, Leonora High, Stewartville High, Zeeburg, West Demerara Secondary, and inland areas, etc.? Where is the department’s equity plan? How long do we have to wait for the ministry to present its plan?

Recently, the ministry launched specialized math training for teachers in Region 4 only, although there is a nationwide state of math emergency. Sixty-four percent of students fail math, which has implications for STEM education and capacity building for the emerging technical needs of the petroleum industry. The other regions must wait for the calculations to flow from region 4. This perpetuates the old inequitable system. We need a reflection on the reform of education at the Ministry. What will they do with the $40 million loan they got? Will we see tangible things for all this money? Will it solve inequalities, including internet access and smart classrooms in all schools in rural areas? Can we use e-learning to begin to address the lack of breadth of curriculum available only to most schools in Region 4?

The opposition must ask questions of Parliament on how this borrowed $40 million will be spent. It’s not free money. We need to see dramatic changes resulting from the use of these funds. In addition, 29% failed in English. Another concerning statistic is the pass rate by gender where only 34% of men pass while 66% of women pass. The data shows that our ministry needs to frame its work around equity in education and that any equity plan needs to be on steroids. Going forward, all regions must make simultaneous progress. No student or school should be left behind!

Dr. Jerry Jailall

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