Like a passing cloud, our discussions of our children’s SEA performance have come and gone. While we anticipated there would be some learning loss due to the effects of Covid on our schools and our children’s education, the results are astonishing.
In each level of results, there has been a significant deterioration. More than half of our students obtained less than 50% in the exams; tragically, 3,000 of these students are placed in secondary schools. This placement just kicks the proverbial box down the road.
The Ministry of Education did not provide detailed performance analyses. Yet it is not difficult to project that students in schools under “school supervision,” particularly those in East Port of Spain, were the ones who continued to perform poorly. Similarly, boys would be the main cohort of laggards. The plan to organize remedial classes during the holidays only attracted a third of the targeted pupils. This rate virtually guaranteed the fulfillment of the Minister of Education’s lament: “It is recognized that this holiday program will not be sufficient in most cases to help our students have a successful high school experience. The components of the program (small classes and specialist teachers) are commendable and supported by best practices from larger countries, but will the execution make a difference?
What’s the risk ? Even though one education actor has called SEL a “competition to advance in life and achieve excellence,” what can we expect from our nation when a segment of the population is condemned to a permanent state of excluded? Do we willingly accept that failure at this level of primary school sends thousands of our children to a bare existence? Do we not understand that this debacle can increase our school dropout rate?
According to Vigil (1988, 2003), when social conditions are harsh and social institutions such as the family (and school) fail, children are “up for grabs” by older, more experienced and susceptible gang members. to live on the streets rather than in institutions. socialization process. Willis’s (1977) seminal study, “Learning to Labour,” is a valuable reminder of how strongly negative school experiences can influence young people’s attitudes and behaviors. It highlights how the structural disconnect between middle-class educational values and working-class culture can create a (sub)cultural response to a school system seen as redundant for social and economic survival among some young men living in our communities. urban.
But it’s not just urban neighborhoods that are at risk since the lower SEA level isn’t a restricted class. Learning loss and dropouts are not temporary shocks that would be easily fixed next year. The learning process is cumulative; each step builds on the previous one. This loss of what economists call “human capital” will translate into lower lifetime earnings at the individual level. It can also lead to a decline in overall national income, threatening our country’s competitiveness.
The sad reality is that this performance has been a long time coming and precedes the damage inflicted by Covid. When Dr Tim Gopeesingh was our Minister of Education, the ministry conducted a pilot study with 3,000 early childhood and primary school children. The study found that 25 percent of children needed little outside help to succeed in school; 25% could do well with some degree of external neurodevelopmental help, and the remaining 50% needed a lot more help. The lack of action has given rise to our recent SEA findings.
In April 2016, Dr Lackram Bodoe spoke in Parliament about ADHD issues which affect 12% of our young children and suggested that a further 15% have other developmental issues. He described the impact these issues would have on our children’s ability to learn and asked what the plan was for these children. When there is violence at school, connect the dots to our inaction.
Covid has exacerbated the problems faced by our children. Virtual learning has lifted the veil on the economic disparity in our country. To succeed in this remote learning environment, you needed a reliable internet connection, working tablets, and a quiet work environment, all of which are more likely to be found in high-income families. Parents from low-income homes were less likely to work from home, leaving their children unsupervised and aimless. With its differential impact on households, the digital divide reduces the value of providing laptops unless there is a supporting framework. With school closures, the potential interaction between students is lost, which has adverse effects on the learning ability of the poorest children.
What should we do to improve our situation? The Ministry of Education holiday program is a good idea. More school time with specialist teachers and smaller class sizes will facilitate the learning recovery process. The announced allocation of $10 million is far too timid. Ms Anita Haynes, the Spokesperson for Ghost Education, is right to urge tests and assessments. Without monitoring data, program effectiveness cannot be assessed. It is possible to extend the scope of the program so that we can build a stable data infrastructure.
Will we do everything to save our children and our nation?