by Patrick J. Bethel (http://www.weblogbahamas.com)
I am 76, but still interested and disturbed by the problems facing our country, especially in the educational field.
In recent weeks I have read statements related to the BGCSE results, in particular as it relates to the teaching of mathematics and English, especially the 10 to 20 percent of school leavers who are functionally illiterate.
Let me add I am proud of the progress made in the educational field in the past 20 years or so, especially at the College of the Bahamas and the percentage of high school graduates going on to tertiary education. Thirty years ago in Abaco less than 5 high school graduates a year went off to college, today it is 25 plus (by the way, sometimes I am concerned about jobs for these returning graduates, too many are not returning).
Enough of generalities.
This letter actually came about when I read comments about the poor math results and I have taken this opportunity to express views on three aspects of our educational system which need serious consideration:
I was a math teacher during my teaching career and I believe a successful one. In my opinion, my success was because my emphasis was first of all on UNDERSTANDING with MEMORIZATION second. Too often in our schools the reverse takes place. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying memorization is not important, it is very important, but must come after understanding has taken place.
I suggest math is a dull, difficult subject to many students, mainly because the concepts being taught are not understood. I could elaborate but time does not allow.
Poor reading results is probably the most serious problem facing the country.
If you can’t read; you can’t learn, at least you can’t get very far.
When I taught in the Family Islands in the 1950’s and 1960’s, few children left school without being able to function at a basic level in reading and math. This is not so today and partly because of negative reasons that were not there, in 1960, and some beyond our control.
But in my opinion there is a major reason why so many students leave the Primary School unable to read. That reason is that not SUFFICIENT TIME is allowed for the subject.
The students of the Primary Schools in the Bahamas have at least 15 days less of school than in the 1950’s and 1960’s plus the fact there are, at least 8 subjects in the syllabus, too many in my opinion. Some may say we’re forgetting the social side of the child’s education. Not so, what I am saying is that reading is so important that more time must be found for the subject.
I believe it takes a certain number of hours for a child to learn to read. Some children will need 10 units, while others 20. We must structure our reading programme so that the child needing 20 units is not neglected and at the end of the primary school a larger number will go on to secondary better equipped to manage the BGCSE syllabus.
Now the really controversial one, BGCSE.
I am getting tired of reading about BGCSE results in August. It is time we do something about it.
Let me say at the outset that it is not the exam, but rather the administration of it. Just in passing I think there are too many subjects, but that is debatable.
When I taught in Hope Town and Harbour Island in the 50’s and 60’s, I taught students who took the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) in grade 9, some went on to BJC, others did not.
When I served on Queen College Board in the 1970’s there were two exams, Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE) for the weaker students, GCE for the others. I respectfully suggest we need a similar system today.
It is wrong and unfair to the less able students to teach them all together and expect better results than we are getting. Maybe this change is forecast in the 10 year plan which I have just received but not read.
Let me sum up:
- Mathematics --- UNDERSTANDING
- Reading --- MORE TIME
- BGCSE --- STREAMING
I hope these are recommendations the country will use.