A 20 percent improvement in passes in Mathematics and English for the entire secondary school population may be too ambitious. But this is not what the Ministry of Education is attempting to do.
Instead the ministry is reportedly aiming to increase the passes for these two core subjects by 20 percent for a specific sample of schools and covering a mere 4,000 students.
A start has to begin somewhere and the schools identified have already had fair results in these two subjects and the project which the Ministry of Education has initiated may be realistic.
The real problem is within the poorer performing schools where the pass rates for all subjects, not just Mathematics and English, are dismal. This is where the real improvement is needed and I am afraid all the books that the education ministry places at the disposal of students is simply not going to help.
Too many of our children are simply being left behind even though there is a no left- behind policy. They are being left behind because they are unable to keep abreast with the standards that are required to ensure passes in the core subjects.
The cause of the failures are many and begin with neglect in the homes. In many areas in Guyana, adults have their televisions sets on during the time when their children are supposed to be studying. Most families in Guyana do not have a separate television room. More often than not, only the rich enjoy this luxury and so in most homes children are competing with the television when they are trying to complete their homework and get some studies in.
Many parents also do not supervise the study hours of their children. They seem to feel that the children are adults and should be able to take responsibility for organizing their own studies and at the same time be disciplined to have a study timetable. This neglect by many parents is the prime reasons for children falling behind in their studies.
The second main reason is the quality of teachers in many of the schools in Guyana. There are far too many unqualified and untrained teachers in the school system. The ministry has set itself the goal of progressively reducing the number of untrained teachers but it needs to bite the bullet and weed out all the untrained teachers within the system.
Each year the teachers’ training school churns out hundreds of trained teachers. Many are already teaching with the system but there may be quite a few that are in need to jobs. The ministry of education should be more proactive and ensure that every one of these graduates are employed immediately upon graduation. They should set up a system to track the employment of these graduating trained teachers and ensure that they are within the school system immediately upon graduation even if it means immediately terminating the services of untrained teachers who these trained teachers can replace.
The pay may be bad within the teaching profession but the pay was always bad. Even in colonial Guyana when there were private schools, the pay was not special.
The poor pay however stands as a disincentive to attract specialist teachers. Instead of providing teachers with duty free concessions, pay them a good salary so that they would have no need for these concessions. But they must be qualified and trained and they must be prepared to work hard whether it is for 39 weeks a year or forty weeks a year. Right now there is a great deal of slacking within the school system with there be very little teaching in the first and last week of schools.
Schools in Guyana closed yesterday for the Christmas holidays. In other countries, schools are closing next week, giving the students an extra week of work. If we want to improve the pass rate for school children in Mathematics and English, longer schools terms is the way to go.
Specialized teachers have to be recruited and the pay is going to be a problem. Countries like India can provide an abundance of these teachers who may be willing to work for what the teachers in Guyana are paid.
But with technology, there can be a solution. There are many Guyanese within the Diaspora who have distinguished themselves and who may be willing to offer their services via skype and other similar software to teach mass audiences. You can have one teacher who is specialized and highly trained and qualified standing in a class room or even a house in New York city and teaching via the internet thousands of children in Guyana at the same time.
This is something that is worth considering. Also worth considering are appropriate learning software in Mathematics and English which the children can use on their computers. Today many schools have computer labs and the software and the students can use the available technology to boost their knowledge.
The Ministry of Education should be commended for attempting the ambitious goal of improving passes in Mathematics and English is a select sample of schools.
But they should also consider the longer term problem and try to address these problems. True quality teachers are in short supply but technology provides the answers to that; true specialized teachers are needed but such teachers are available in India and other countries and they may be willing to come here and work. True parents are neglecting the supervision of their children work. Well, there is no easy fix here. If parents do not take the sort of interest in the children that they should, then the education ministry can do its utmost and it will not make much of a difference.
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