THE EDITOR: A just society is inclusive. Years ago the late Prof John Spence said: "If indeed education is better in denominational schools, then we must ensure that government schools are brought up to the best level." If parents are placing “stress” on the shoulders of their children writing the SEA exam, it is because they know that there is no level playing field in our education system.
While the SEA is a placement exam, parents in particular, worry if their children do not score sufficient marks to be placed in a school of their first choice, they may end up in a school where the quality of education leaves much to be desired.
We must do more to strengthen this partnership; to create conditions/places of high quality teaching and learning that will allow each child to realise his/her potential. Pope Francis stated: “Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him/her."
In 2014, the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stated: "Education is the great equaliser – it should be used to level the playing field, not to grow inequality." Is our education system enabling our children to grow; to be the best that they can be? Do all students have access to quality education?
Development has to be person-centred if we are to achieve our nation's goals. The principle of "integral human development" is the development of every dimension of a person and of every person. Each year we go through the same story with the SEA – euphoria for some, misery for others.
Last year 2,595 students scored less than 30 per cent in the SEA. The Minister of Education and the Ministry's CEO stated that about 32 students less than last year's figure scored less than 30 per cent. This means that 2,565 scored less than 30 per cent this year. Those who score under 30 per cent and are under 13 years old are not placed in secondary schools and some will repeat a year.
The revised syllabus contains a new assessment framework that was distributed to schools in 2017. Teachers were trained and students had two years to prepare for the exam, which seeks to test eg their creative/reasoning/ critical thinking/ problem-solving skills. Was this sufficient time to move from rote learning and regurgitating information to learn about/practise critical thinking?
Michigan State University Extension shares tips on helping children learn and practice critical thinking e.g. encourage pursuits of curiosity, learn from others, help children evaluate information, promote children's interest, and teach problem-solving skills. We should introduce this life skill early in a child's school life. This requires our schools to consider whether the teaching and learning processes as they currently exist, will facilitate the development of this skill in our students.
I was disturbed by the information shared at the recent sitting of Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights. Of the 3,735 school pupils who have special needs, only 1,756 have been referred to the Ministry of Education’s Student Support Services Division. CEO Harrilal Seecharan said many pupils are diagnosed late. Some pupils have waited up to nine years to be assessed before applying for SEA concessions. Three hundred students got special concessions.
Let's hope that the plan to ensure that screening takes place from the point of the early childhood education centres and in primary schools becomes a reality soon. I believe in inclusive education. Special-needs children should be in mainstream schools, but it is essential that adequate support is given to teachers to cater for their needs. OJTs alone will not cut it! And it is scandalous that since March 2018 special-needs students are still waiting for their grants. Time for the new type of grant to be distributed.
Leela Ramdeen via e-mail