The Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) results are out and we offer our congratulations to the successful students. The hype over these results is not as extensive as that surrounding the CSEC, which is due out today. While it may have something to do with the numbers (last year 12,731 candidates sat for the CSEC but only 627 wrote CAPE – upped to 740 this year), it may also be related to the state of higher education in Guyana.
CAPE – which is our Caribbean equivalent of the British “A” Levels – was intended to be a bridge between high school and university. From the ‘spoon feeding’ teaching methodology used since primary school, the student was to be introduced to the more independent research expectations of university. Teachers were supposed to provide greater guidance in research and less regurgitating materials from textbooks.
But with only 5% of students that wrote CSEC going on to CAPE, it means that very few of the almost 1400 students that enter UG annually have been prepared for the new orientation. UG has to spend a tremendous amount of resources to bring these students up to speed. This is one of the factors that have contributed to the very poor quality of graduates from our solitary institution of higher learning.
But maybe it also sets in place a mindset in teaching where UG continues to be a high school in everything but name. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continued insistence of the institution to evaluate ‘teaching’ staff by the number of hours of ‘periods’ taken. In this space we have bemoaned the studied refusal of UG and its teaching staff to focus on research – which should be the basis of staff evaluation. One member of the staff even defended this lacuna in the conducting of research. More than 50% of all students at UG are enrolled in the faculty of Social Sciences, thus there is not the necessity of constructing billion-dollar hadron colliders to conduct research. But yet almost none of the enormous number of social problems confronting the Guyanese public – suicide, alcoholism, domestic violence etc. – are being investigated.
This misdirection in teaching methodology in our university arises out of the false concept of knowledge embedded in the system. The crude measures the university apply in the name of accountability mask the epistemic sterility of the curriculum, the pedagogic process and examination. In the successful universities that have pushed their countries’ development, curriculum and pedagogy both follow the teacher’s own research interests. Even smaller universities with limited resources attempt to cultivate a research environment. Topics of research reflect the university’s concern for the social and natural world surrounding it. Research is seen as an inquiry to solve problems as well as to induct the young into a community of inquiries. Keeping a record of hours spent on direct teaching becomes irrelevant in such a system, even in the case of undergraduate students. To keep their research interests alive and popular, senior professors engage with young undergraduates who bring fresh questions and perspectives to ongoing inquiries.
The equivalence of our university to a high school continues with the handling of the UG library. In a university, the students should be expected to conduct their survey of completed research in the library – on their own rather than just reading textbooks or copying notes. Even in the most ordinary universities abroad, the library forms the centre of life, both for teachers and students. Librarians enjoy a high status as their contribution to academic life cuts across academic disciplines. They work closely with teachers and students in the various tasks involved in procurement of books and journals, keeping the library quiet and friendly, and ensuring speedy access. Our case is the opposite. The library exists on the margins of the classroom.
The present hoopla over examination results perpetuates what British economist, Ronald Dore, has called the ‘Diploma Disease’. This ensures our continued underdevelopment as we keep using mark-sheets and certificates to screen the young for further education and employment.