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Children reading below level

Friday, January 22, 2016
NPTA on failing primary schools:

President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA) Zena Ramatali is not surprised that 100 primary schools are failing.

In fact, two years ago the figure was 132, she said.

Ramatali was responding yesterday to statements made by Prof Theodore Lewis, who has been appointed chairman of committees to review Early Childhood Education and Primary School Curriculum and develop a refereed foundation textbook on the history of T&T.  

In an interview on Wednesday after receiving his instrument of appointment from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Lewis said research, which was documented and even reported in the media over the years,  had shown that some 100 primary schools were not performing up to par.  He said this figure was alarming and if problems in education were not identified, it could not be solved.

“We have to bear in mind there are schools that are not doing the kind of job with the curriculum and the children who are coming in do not have a chance to do better. “If there are schools that are not performing, we will never fix them until we say they are,” Lewis had said.

Interviewed yesterday, Ramatali said the research was usually done by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with the University of the West Indies, St Augustine.

“The NPTA worked in three communities last year and the children were reading below their level,” Ramatali said, adding that an initiative to improve pupils would be welcome.

She also endorsed comments made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who after handing out the letters, said despite millions being spent on education there were less educated people in the country.

Success not only academic

But success of a school cannot solely depend on academic success, says president of the T&T Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) Davanand Sinanan.

When asked whether he was aware there were 100 primary schools failing, Sinanan said he did not know if there was a list of “successful and unsuccessful schools”  which was compiled or made available to the national community on a periodic basis.

Asked where he had gotten his information from, Lewis had said it was research conducted which was even published in the media.

In terms of a pass rate,  Sinanan, who said there must be proper definition for the term “failing,” added, “This depends on what yardstick you are using to measure failing or success. If you are just using a very narrow construct of educational attainment.....certification, passing exams, there are many reasons why that is so.

“But I will not sit and pass judgment without being able to go into the school and do that kind of in-depth analysis and understand all the circumstances and factors that would have contributed to such a situation and that is what needs to be done. You can’t just paint all schools with a common brush like that,” Sinanan said.

He also disputed the notion that private primary schools were performing better than the public ones, saying he took umbrage to this.

Sinanan added that even former education minister Dr Tim Goopeesingh had said there were some private primary schools which were doing abysmally poor.

“And that is a fact. But in terms of specific numbers.... the benchmark to determine what is a successful or unsuccessful we have these standards?

“I am not aware that we have such established standards. Schooling is much more than simply passing examinations,” he said.

Future of society

National developmental agenda must play a key role in the development of the primary school curriculum and  what are the goals of the Government in terms of the future of the country, Sinanan said.

“What kind of citizens we want to see coming out of our school system in alignment with that vision. That’s where the curriculum has to be adjusted.

“If we are clear on that, what is the kind of society we want to create for the future...15, 20 years down the road. Only when we are clear about that then the curriculum must be aligned to those kind of long-term goals as a society then the school would locate its role,” he said.

He said when this was done then the teacher could also locate his or her function in the process,  urging the curriculum must not be reviewed in a vacuum.

Using Singapore as an example, he said more than 40 years ago that country reexamined its curriculum which entailed taking information and doing something with it as a society.

“They realigned their curriculum with that in mind, that is why they are described as a highly advanced society,” Sinanan added.

Coupled with this was the fact that teachers were well paid and schools were well resourced.

On the history textbook he said while this country’s history was well documented there was need to have the subject infused in both primary and secondary schools.

“History must not be taught as a separate subject but from a clear perspective that children have an understanding of who they are and where they came from,” Sinanan added.


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