High Flyers and the rest
And the horses are in!!! This might as well have been the headline in the dailies as the results of the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) were announced.
The focus, as usual, was on the ‘high flyers’ – the top 100 or so performers out of the 17,138 candidates who wrote this examination this year. The top 10 marks were shared by 32 students with the highest possible total score obtainable at 563.
When in 2003, the Common Entrance Examination was reorganised as the NGSA, the operational change was from ‘examination’ to ‘assessment’. With great fanfare, it was announced that the children were being assessed to discern strength and weaknesses that the educational system would take into consideration as they moved through it. The simultaneous introduction of National Grade Two and Grade Four Assessments was intended to supplement the NGSA.
Around the same time there were several other innovations introduced. The first, related to the ‘assessments’, was the announcement that the ‘cream of the crop’ that came out of the Common Entrance and traditionally proceeded to the ‘elite’ secondary schools in Georgetown would be phased out. Secondary schools in all Regions were to be upgraded to reach the same standards as the Georgetown schools and soon students would simply proceed to secondary schools in their own Regions.
The other change was the ‘no child left behind’ policy, which was interpreted in Guyana as no child failing and left in his/her original class. There were to be remedial classes after regular school hours and during the holidays that would bring lagging children up to scratch. The announcement of the NGSA results forces us once again to ask what exactly has been the fate of the set of supposedly related changes. It does appear that in reality, not much has actually been implemented and all we are left with is the NGSA in place of the Common Entrance.
The top five hundred or so performers will still be going on to the ‘premier’ Georgetown schools headed by Queen’s College. What has happened to the vaunted egalitarianism that was going to be created in the secondary schools? The country schools are still being treated like Cinderella’s step sisters.
The other side of the coin is that if we are going to continue to have ‘elite’ schools – and there is a large body of opinion that supports this option – when are we going to treat the identified schools as such? For instance, if every year we are going to send our top 100 NGSA students to Queen’s, should we not have a salary structure and other incentives in place to attract the requisite quality of teachers?
Then there is the vexed question of the ‘assessments’. All the Grade Two and Grade Four Assessments appear to have done was to introduce ‘lessons’ further down the educational food chain. After all, part of the marks announced as NGSA results came from these ‘assessments’.
We have asked the question several times over the years, but without any response from the Ministry: in how many schools are the results of the ‘assessments’ scrutinised by teachers and the children given individual attention based on their strengths and weaknesses? And for the NGSA, which of the high schools that accept the graduates utilise the scores for the stated purpose?
Finally there is the ‘no child left behind’ policy that has come into severe fire throughout the country – most recently during the new Minister of Education’s interactions with educators on the issue of corporal punishment. It does not appear the policy has found favour with the key constituencies or stakeholders: parents and teachers.
In our opinion, it is time for the new Minister of Education to take a deep breath and revisit the innovations that were introduced almost a decade ago, with, we are sure, the best of intentions. We have had enough time to evaluate them – whether on their individual merits – or whether we have the resources necessary to implement them.Finally, hats off to all Grade Six graduates.