TTUTA writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
We continue to explore the relevance and purpose of the National Certificate of Secondary Education (NCSE) examination for all students at the end of Form III, against the backdrop of seeking value for money invested in education.
It is worth mentioning that the examination itself spans a period of three weeks beginning in mid-May.
This results in the loss of a significant part of term three for teaching purposes. Schools are also required to commit large amounts of scarce resources to facilitate this examination. It also causes the disruption of teaching of other subjects; for example, teachers of Spanish and English language are required to facilitate the oral examination, taking them away from their regular teaching workloads for an entire week.
This national examination has been known to contain blatant errors and sometimes reflects questions on topics that are not aligned to the syllabus. One wonders about the quality of oversight that exists at the Ministry of Education where this examination is concerned.
As mentioned before, the results of this examination do not get to the school until mid-October so they cannot be used as a basis to place students into subject groupings in Form IV.
The restriction of the syllabus to eight core subjects (English language, mathematics, integrated science, Spanish, technology education, social studies, physical education, and visual and performing arts) at the lower forms (I-III) also severely hampers the preparation of students for the CSEC examinations in subjects such as geography, history, physics and chemistry. While in some subject areas there is a smooth flow into the CSEC Form IV syllabus, the problem arises when the students branch off into subjects that are beyond the realm of the eight core subjects.
When this happens, the requisite content having not been covered at the lower forms forces schools to independently introduce subjects such as physics, chemistry, history and geography at the lower forms alongside the NCSE syllabus, where students can begin the CSEC syllabus.
The trend of CSEC beginning in mid-May also means that in the case of Form V students, term three is restricted to examinations and therefore all teaching and examination preparation must be virtually completed by term two. Gone are the days of June being the month of examinations. In fact by mid-June all CSEC examinations are over.
This trend also applies to the NCSE examination.
Bearing that in mind, losing several weeks of term three at the Form III level to the NCSE examination places undue pressure on schools to devise ways to ensure that requisite syllabuses are completed by the end of term two for Form V students, or even sooner.
These are some of the realities that must be considered when examining the relevance of the NCSE syllabus and examination, given the stated position of the Government to get value for money. In the context of education, maybe the Ministry of Education owes the society an explanation as a means of justifying the retention of the NCSE.
The cost of administering the examination must be quite significant and this must be considered against the background of the extent to which its retention has enhanced student learning and or their performance later on in the CSEC examinations.
A cursory glance at CSEC results over the years would reveal no noticeable improvement in student performance during this period and the criticisms of student shortcomings remaining relatively consistent. It is no wonder that many teachers have been questioning the retention of the NCSE as an integral component of the secondary school system. Maybe the authorities know something that the rest of us do not.