Address falling literacy

Chief Education officer Dr Peter Smith.
Chief Education officer Dr Peter Smith.

SECONDARY school students who cannot spell their name, Form One students still reading at Standard Three level, more students failing, more students frustrated, more students disrupting others — these were some of the disturbing complaints coming out of a “town hall” meeting put on by the Ministry of Education on Tuesday.

That we need a comprehensive review of primary schools could not be more evident.

We cannot simply rely on remedial measures. Speaking at Tuesday’s event, Dr Peter Smith, the Chief Education Officer, said the ministry was aware of the challenges and pointed to the recent expanded vacation revision programme. He also said more students than ever are sitting examinations like the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.

But while a greater uptake of students at vacation classes can help, this measure cannot plug a gap that should not have to be filled in the first place. Remedial classes are no substitute for the matters at the root of this issue: the need to take a closer look at the curriculum and to consider whether current modes of delivery are appropriate or fit for purpose in the fast-changing education environment.

In any event, it’s not clear whether enough students are even taking these make-up classes.

Additionally, that more students register to take examinations at levels higher up is little cause for comfort when there are alarming rates of student absenteeism and the non-submission of coursework. We also should not look to secondary schools to pick up the slack from primary schools when early development is key to later success.

All are matters that should be considered by a review. As should some of the recommendations by stakeholders. For instance, there is a role to be played by NGOs like the Adult Literacy Tutors Association who could train teachers to implement programmes and conduct assessments, as suggested by Adesh Dwarika, the first vice president of the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA).

Consideration could also be given to hiring more specialist teachers on contract.

Certainly, we need to look, as a society, at the socio-economic pressures that are behind the increasingly poor performance of students. As more time passes since the disruptions of the pandemic, it is worth taking a closer look at the impact of that period of time as well as factors outside of it. The Ministry of Education can take the lead in this, but it should work with the Ministry of Social Development and relevant stakeholders as well.

Most importantly, we need to listen to our children. They have been speaking to us, telling us in the home directly or, now, through their failing grades, that something is amiss.

We should not ignore them. We should take action to empower them to rise above their challenges.


"Address falling literacy"

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