The KN September 2nd caption said much: “Extra lessons at ‘Sir Morgan’s pay off -Third and Fourth formers shine at CSEC.” There are several sides to that underlying story: the brightening, the worrying, and the cautioning, too. A closer look should shed some light on this astounding, but troubling, development.
The article was very specific: there were these “Third and fourth formers, who have earned Grade One and Straight ‘A’ profiles (distinction) passes at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, (CSEC). The students, who sat the exams via Morgan’s Learning Centre, (MLC)…” From this paper, commendations are extended to these hardworking students and the school for overachieving and delivering. Sets an inspiring example for peers to follow.
This industriousness and sustained application was confirmed through their sharing that, “We had to wake up early in the mornings, go to lessons at the Centre, then got to school then back to lessons in the evening. So it was hard work.”
Limiting to clock management only, that translates to somewhere in the vicinity of twelve hours in the classrooms, with another two serving as bookends in accounting for round trip travel. To this, there is the reasonable adding of a couple of hours for the ‘unwinding’ of food, hygiene and the rest. Study time only adds to the demands of being a student in these circumstances. No approximations are offered as to how long is the daily personal study timetable; or what is the quantity of rest. Now, all the while, this is happening daily, and often seven days weekly.
Again, there can be only recognition of and congratulation for such herculean dedication by these young, but hardy, souls; and their sturdy supporting cast of committed teachers and parents. Together, this takes some doing. This is the part that brings brightening. Now for the worrying aspect of this laudable report.
The Fourth formers, who undertook the challenge of CSEC and succeeded, are bypassed. It is the Third formers, who emphasize where this is leading. Because if Third formers can dare to think of sitting for the CSEC during that school year, actually read for and take the examinations, and triumph, then some questions and points – hard, unflinching, and rational – must be tabled.
First, if the CSEC educational bar (so far in the Business subjects mainly) is taken successfully a full two years before the normal time, as done by these students, then this says so much. Second, it is not only that these intrepid (and undoubtedly dedicated) students passed, but quite a few passed with very high marks, including distinction ‘profiles.’ To reiterate: it is not one or two, but quite a few students who did exceptionally well. This is incredible at Third form and the accolades remain in place for so many gifted. Third, and for the first question: what does this say about the standard of the CSEC level? How demanding and challenging can it really be? What separates it from the very ordinary, if not the simplistic, when it can be mastered so early by not so few?
To be sure, and in the same vein, it could be posited that it is only a matter of time before some similarly heavyweight highfliers from Second form decide that this thing is doable and succeed in acing (to a distinctive degree) the CSEC offerings at that junior level. It should not come as a surprise to hear of students, teachers, and parents combining to take that plunge.
Then, as this becomes reality, a fair question is this: given the state of the CSEC examination regime, is the year of Fifth form really needed? Or what does this say about many of the local and regional students, who still struggle with five subjects (full five years secondary schooling involved)? If the now worrying academic yardstick of CSEC is less than a full-blooded cerebral interrogation, then where does this leave them, in terms of basic academic capacity? How can this sensitively-placed academic pathway prepare the nation’s young for the harder ones ahead?
Moreover, there is a cautioning tale in this; several of them, in fact. CSEC currently does not enjoy respectful standing in many demanding foreign institutions of higher learning. Truth be told, it is not accepted: not five subjects, nor twenty-five of them. CAPE is the first filtering ground, with a tiny fraction measuring up. These are the first wakeup calls. The next is that, in the rushing world of globalization, and its intense competitions, this does not leave local students in either a satisfying or authoritative place. There is the high probability that even the above average ones could be unable to challenge or compete; and only possessing the volume of bottom feeders, wherever they may be. The third and last warning is that, with this country perched where it is relative to its enormous oil assets, the bulk of its local content instructed and handed over are not going to be ready for what lies ahead. Not ready to excel at the tertiary level; not ready to register recognizable presences in Guyana’s oil empire; and not ready to make their way in life in most places.
The recent tussle between the American plenipotentiary and the Georgetown Chamber over local content highlighted areas that require much work, at least in the minds of outsiders. Local content must measure up in both quantity and quality, as well as reputation.
As if to confirm all of this, the Minister of Education kicked off this year’s Education Month through asserting and emphasizing the telling theme finalized: “Education is the Key to National Development.” In many respects, that is reminding and retelling the children and adults of Guyana that this is the cornerstone of and launch pad toward the near future; that future is now. And as if to underscore the unquestioned importance of a quality and recognizable education, the minister noted that, “if education fails, the nation fails” (KN September 4). It is an ancient narrative well worth repeating.
The fact that so many junior students (Third formers) can sit for the academic rite of passage of CSEC and succeed conveys a praiseworthy but, as said, alarming story. There are unconfirmed reports that, some time ago, a student from an even lower form recorded that honour, too.
Clearly, the pivotal proving ground of CSEC must be revisited; or at least looked at very hard as to its continuing role in being one of the first keys (if not main one) to this nation’s development. That is, either through offering a more robust and rigorous standard; or with an attractive alternative that is explored and introduced early.
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