Sep 19, 2022 Letters
Once again, the Ministry with a ‘fixed mindset’ has held its ‘dog and pony show’ to celebrate what is probably the worst aspect of our education system – the release of the 2022 NGSA National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) results. NGSA is the annual sorting mechanism that stratifies students and schools as smart or not so smart – in identifying winners who go to better schools and losers who go to less desirable schools. The Ministry obsesses over one percent of top performers – 182 students, although 16,223 students wrote the exams. So, what happens to the other 99% – 16,041 students – the majority? Goat bite them? Who cares about them going to poorer, lesser high schools? The root cause of this problem is we have created a majority of poor high schools when we need to upgrade all schools and make them comparable and equal. If all 116 high schools are near equal in quality, students can simply go to their neighbourhood schools. We would not need the NGSA to sort them. It is time all Guyanese revolt against such a vile, pernicious, elitist system. We want change now!
Why should a student in Region 1 have to leave his village and come to Georgetown to have a better education? Is that right? Is that fair? Why should a student from Crabwood Creek, Wakenaam, Pomeroon or Leguan have to go to Georgetown to have a better-quality education? A student or family would have to uproot, disrupt their lives, and enter into great expense to find housing, etc. to attend the elite school. Do we not want to change this backward system? Why are we celebrating it instead? Out of the 182 students in Guyana’s top one per cent at this year’s NGSA, 45.5 % (81) are from Georgetown schools, or District 11. About 40% (73) are from private institutions – many of these are in Georgetown too. Failure rates at NGSA were: 41% failed social studies; 54% failed science; 65% failed math; 35% failed English. I worry more about the tens of thousands– the children of poverty – who are failing, not the 182 who are the top horses. This is a broken system!
Education, health and income are the most important equalizers in society. One’s life can rise or fall depending on access to these. Guyana is at least 15-20 years behind in developing a high-performing education system. An urgent need in Guyana is for smart education leadership to shatter the old model, the old paradigm, which is an anachronism in this the modern era of educational reform. The NGSA – a placement test – inherited from colonial times when it used to be called the “Common Entrance Exam” has no place in 2022 and beyond. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins (Mark 2:22). It’s a bad foundation on which to build a modern 21st century education system. I must use harsh words here. It is the best example of an ongoing educational malpractice, that no Government set out to dismantle. NGSA is nothing less than educational terrorism, structured educational apartheid, and after 33 years of the PNC and 25 years of the PPP, it has not been changed. Any new Third Force Party must make this a cornerstone of a platform that also includes oil contract renegotiation. How in these modern times can a country design a system rooted in crass inequities and inequalities across its 116 secondary schools of varying quality? And then they celebrate the perceived winners and losers in an annual ritual of announcing the high scorers complete with their test scores, pictures and schools attended. In the USA, a child’s test scores are regarded as a confidential information subject to privacy laws, and is not released to the public the way we do in Guyana. We have no ethics, sensitivity, and regard for the self-esteem or feelings of students when we celebrate the achievement of only 182 top achievers when 16,223 students took the test.
The NGSA is a horse race. It assigns winners and losers. The test is worth 523 marks. Top scorers get a chance to go to 6 “top” schools located in Region 4. The cut-off mark for the top schools are Queen’s College-508, Bishops’ High -504, St. Stanislaus College-501, St. Rose’s High-498, St. Joseph High-495 and President’s College-488.These are regarded and promoted as the top, coveted schools that a student should aspire to attend. A child placed in any of these schools achieves elite status. You are a bright boy or bright girl, smarter than others boys and girls that could not get in. It was even said that QC students run Guyana. (See “Who really runs things in Guyana? by ‘Peeping Tom’, Nov. 8, 2014).
At this stage of our development, with the emergence and growth of an oil economy, a modern, relevant, aligned educational system is pivotal. Our current system is disjointed, unaligned, with various tertiary sectors on parallel roads. Our education leaders must talk about reform, reinventing, restructuring, redesigning, reculturing, rethinking, reimagining, and the development of an “opportunity culture” that provides equal access to education across all schools and all regions. We can no longer justify Region 4 having a preferential status and the other 9 regions must settle for crumbs that fall from the tables of the Georgetown folks. That is intentional designing of a moribund system based on educational malpractice. This must end now. How can we have only 12 of 116 schools offering CAPE? How can we have 5 entire regions with no schools offering CAPE? The root cause of having the NGSA placement test is because we have created a system of inherently unequal secondary schools along a continuum of poor rural schools to better, more resourced urban schools. If we use the US$40 million loan to address this problem and upgrade and equalize all secondary schools, create equal access and equal opportunity to a high-quality secondary education, we can abolish the NGSA. That will not be needed anymore to decide who gets into what school based on a test score. NGSA negates all that we know about high quality education – learning styles, multiple intelligences, quality staffing, parent and community support, equity, equal opportunity, equal access, inclusion, special education, academic rigour, access to modern technology, student and teacher support systems, and a culture of high expectations.
The Ministry of Education is our largest Ministry with the most money ($74.4B+) and of great importance in national development. To whom much is given, much is required. We need brilliant, dynamic, innovative leadership at this Ministry, “Because We Care.” Wake up Guyana! Fight for a revamped education system! Let’s collect taxes from Exxon and build a modern education system!
Dr. Jerry Jailall
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