Education in Guyana is in not in a disastrous state. There may be serious problems, but to simply use the passes in English and Mathematics to announce a state of emergency in education is misleading.
For one, despite the poor performance in these two subject areas, the level of passes is still far superior to what existed in the last days of the PNC regime when only 8.45 % of the students who took English A passed in 1991 and when there was a mere 17% pass rate in Mathematics in the CXC examinations in 1990.
Since then passes have increased to almost 46% and 29% in English and Mathematics respectively. While it is the objective of the Ministry to improve these results, they do speak to the fact that Guyana has made strides over the past twenty years in improving passes in the core subjects of Mathematics and English.
The second reason why a state of disaster should not be declared is that other countries in the region face similar problems in Mathematics and English. Jamaica’s performance declined last year to just over 31%, not far from Guyana’s own this year. And English A passes last year also declined in that country.
All around the Caribbean there are concerns about the level of passes in Mathematics and English. This has become a regional concern and is therefore not isolated to Guyana, even though some of the other countries outdid Guyana in these two subject areas.
There needs to be a careful analysis as to the causes of the poor performance in English A. The pass rate in English A, for example, was way below that of English B, but this may be attributed to the fact that most of the students who wrote the latter may have been doing well in English A and those who were not doing well declined to write English B.
Looking at raw scores and jumping to wild conclusions is not the way to approach this issue and it is hoped that instead of deeming education in Guyana to be in a disaster zone, those making such reckless comments should be encouraging a regional study of this problem.
The evidence suggests that either there is a problem with the teaching of these subjects or that the curricula may need to be modified to move away from the British system of learning. Our textbooks, for example, need a great deal more of examples relating to the experiences of Caribbean people, since our children may be better able to relate to these problems. Guyana should be worried, but not unduly so.
Guyana’s performance is not all that dismal considering the increase in the number of persons writing the CSEC examinations over the years. There was a time when despite all the talk about free education from nursery to university, a fair percentage of our school population was not being afforded secondary education.
One of the priorities of the government has been to increase educational access to cater for the thousands who were being shortchanged and excluded from the system. Where the priority is to ensure that there is greater access to secondary education, there is bound to be some fall-off in results. Despite this, the results have improved from what they were twenty years ago and all this talk about a crisis in education is more of a circus act than a serious evaluation of the state of education in Guyana.
The poor performance in Mathematics and English will not present a shortage of skills for Guyana. Migration of those that passed is a far greater threat. This country was built on the backs of persons who were hardly literate. And while it is important that today the workforce be educated, one has to question the desirability of a 100% pass rate in Mathematics and English.
Guyana therefore should be realistic and aim to improve rates to around 50% within the next three years through appropriate interventions. It would be impractical and unrealistic to expect that we can improve the pass rates to higher than these numbers within the next three years, regardless of the resources that are available.
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