I am writing to magnify the reality of what public education has become in this country: an incomprehensible mess of refuse.
In the year 2019, senior high school teachers are being subjected to teach the junior high curriculum all for the sake of the national high school diploma (NHSD). We have spent four years training in our specified fields to then be instructed to put down the content, the pedagogy and the overall desire to instruct in the manner with which we were taught, to be reduced to months of back-to-basics, another few weeks of ninth grade education and eagerly await for the darlings to pass to then move into teaching what we’ve been trained to do. Help me, Lord.
The true value of education is further denigrated by a mediocre standard of achievement, as if rote learning for the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exam wasn’t enough.
Hear me out: in 2014, the Ministry of Education implemented its national high school diploma with a goal to “assist more students to graduate”. The requirements for graduation are as follows:
Four BJC’s with D and above; 2.00 cumulative GPA; ninety percent punctuality; ninety percent attendance; thirty community service hours; twenty hours of job readiness (no longer done in many of the senior schools); and three parent/teacher conferences. If you are still unsure of the point of this letter, I will enlighten: aside from coming to school, being on time and passing classes with a C, ultimately the NHSD reflects a ninth grade level of achievement.
Our children are spending 12 years in the school system to be awarded a diploma for achieving something that could be done in nine years.
So yes, our astute minister of education can boast and celebrate a 13 percent increase in the graduation rate since 2017, but what really is there to applaud?
The successful graduate has proven they’re capable of attaining four junior high exams with a D pass, attend school and do the bare minimum. Are we really producing nation builders?
Let’s also consider the mythical national average; if the national average is based on BGCSE achievement, a senior high examination, why is the national high school diploma based on a junior high examination?
The Ministry of Education revealed in late October that only “7.5 percent of students who sat the BGCSE examination passed English, mathematics and a science. Only 11.7 percent of students passed at least five subjects. The result for the BJC examinations indicated that only 11 percent of students who sat the exam passed math, English and a science.”
Even after this revelation, Mr. Lloyd (Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd) said that “increasing graduation rates are indicative of an improvement in overall performance”.
Just because they’re graduating doesn’t mean they’re educated.
Here’s how students reason: “Ine pass no subjects in junior high? I could just do ‘em in senior high.”
Instead of progressing, instead of engaging in some level of critical thought in the senior high school, we have hundreds of students entering 10th grade with the sole desire to wait until grade 11 to sit their junior high national exam.
Ladies and gentlemen, the decline in students sitting the BGCSE is as a result of an increase in students sitting BJC in senior high. Each national subject is considered a three-year course; if passing the BJC takes five years instead of three, that leaves exactly one year to complete a three-year course for the BGCSE…hence our conundrum.
The mythical national average
Let us dissect this national average that is considered the be-all and end-all of the education system. For many of the essential subjects, there is a core level and an extended level. Extended level is reserved for the exceptional students who demonstrate that their thinking ability surpasses the average. The extended level is where you can receive an A or B grade. The core level is for everyone else, where the highest grade one can achieve is a C. It is impossible to effectively calculate the national average when 80 percent or more of students are only sitting the core level; therefore they can only achieve up to a C grade.
If we were to really gauge the achievement of our students, take an average of the achievement at the core level as well as at the extended level. The students sitting the extended level of the exams are handpicked by their teachers; they’re the ones guaranteed to get that A or B grade. How can their grades be measured with students who can only achieve a C?
Here we are, celebrating an improved graduation rate, decrying a declining national average and completely disregarding the disservice we’ve done our students and our teachers.
Paulo Freire explicitly states the goal of education is to develop critical consciousness. It should be a process of both teaching and learning. Students are coming to senior high school empty; our role is simply filling them enough to pass the exam. Most teachers are happy doing just that; but the good teachers, the ones who wish to produce learners who can truly solve problems, cannot sit by and accept mediocrity.
The ministry’s theme is “Understanding the Whole Picture and Imaging The Finished Results”. Setting the bar so low cannot be what they envisioned as the whole picture, when the finished results are broken students who don’t value themselves, their education nor their country.
Let’s not focus on “assisting more students to graduate”, let’s reform our system and focus on assisting more students to pursue knowledge instead of a national examination.
— Olive Green