Assessing Assessments

March 14, 2012 | By | Filed Under Editorial 


The now old topic of “extra lessons” for schoolchildren is in the headlines once again. It had cropped up before in the last month but in a tangential and ancillary fashion: one child was robbed; another was stabbed and killed outside of “lessons places”.  But with a new administration; new Minister of Education and a “New Dispensation”, the specific jejune scholastic conundrum of “why lessons” has reared its head once again.
Mr. Olato Sam, the Chief Education Officer (CEO), in an engagement with South Georgetown teachers, which seemed to have created a considerable amount of heat, failed however to cast any new light on the phenomenon. Mr. Sam expressed the familiar lament of officials from the education establishment: he was ‘troubled’ that children are now ‘dragged’ to lessons by their parents as early as Grade Two. Such children would be only seven. The good educator waxed eloquently (and perhaps, nostalgically) – “Children should be playing and having fun and enjoying their lives, climbing trees, scooting and falling down, scraping themselves and running around and enjoying their afternoons.”
Almost a decade after the Ministry of Education (MoE) scrapped the “Common Entrance” and substituted “Assessments” at Grades 2,4,and 6, the CEO bewailed the reality that ‘some’ teachers still believe the “Assessments” are the same as “Examinations”. He should be thankful that there are any teachers in the system who could discern a difference. The first two “Assessments”, after all, contribute marks to the final National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) which is in no way distinguishable from the old “Common Entrance”. It determines which of the ‘premier” secondary school the graduates end up in – and solid signifier of future success in Guyana.
Can the CEO say which secondary schools in Guyana use the NGSA scores to offer customised teaching to their incoming 7th Grade students? Or for that matter, which third or fifth grade teachers use the preceding Assessments to address ‘weaknesses of their charges within their own school? Yet as we reported, the CEO “expounded that an assessment is one that is intended to ascertain what areas students are doing well in as well as those areas in which they are struggling so that teachers could be better informed when planning for Grades Three and Four.”
All we can say is that the “Assessment” innovation needs to be re-assessed on its foundational premises. Do we have the systems in place to utilise the Assessments and deliver tailored interventions to students? Are the questions on Assessments any different from the “Exams”? Has the teaching methodology been altered one iota from the “teaching to tests” culture? When the Assessments were introduced, this newspaper posited that we were simply adding to the pressures on the students at an earlier age. We predicted the earlier entry into the ‘lesson’ culture for the simple reason that the Assessments were and seen as predictors of academic success.
And it is for this reason that we are quite apprehensive of the pilot program the CEO mentioned that is being introduced into Nursery Schools. What exactly is this? Are we now going to push ‘lessons” further down the chain? What Mr. Sam and the rest of the educators from Brickdam must realise is that until the teachers in the schools deliver the material on the curriculum, within the requisite time, ‘lessons” will continue to be with us.
The bottom line is that this goal remains the exception rather than the rule in the public school system. One private school, the Saraswatie Vidya Niketan on the West Coast of Demerara, has forbidden any ‘extra lessons” either by teachers from the school or others. Teachers of the school are required to provide extra coaching on the school premises to cover the curriculum before exams. Their results in the short time they have been around demonstrate that the solution to solving our low overall educational achievements is not to censure parents for attempting to fill gaps in the delivery of the educational product in the schools.
Teachers must be motivated to teach in the schools.

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