Science students not properly prepared
August 31, 2007

Science students not properly prepared

Something went horribly wrong this year for students who wrote Mathematics and the Science subjects at the Cambridge International Advanced level Examinations, and determining the reason for the startling level of failure is the cause of much headache for all concerned.{{more}}

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education Laura Browne, describes as “nonsense” one claim that the reason so many students scored “Ungraded” (U) in the science subjects is because the Ministry did not pay Cambridge the required fees.

“And results came back? I cannot believe sensible people could come up with that,” Browne declared.

And as Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is also scratching his head for an explanation, students facing the disappointment are pointing to inadequate tutoring.

“The young people … are not doing as well in the sciences and mathematics at A’levels as I would like them to do.” Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, said last Monday, speaking at the launch of the National Commercial Bank Micro Enterprise Loan programme.

He said that he is considering ways of improving the situation including offering special scholarships to students as well as incentives to Math and Science teachers.

Searchlight understands that the students who wrote the Cambridge A’level Mathematics were those who opted to switch from the CXC Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exam (CAPE) mathematics after they failed the CAPE Unit 1 exam at the end of their first year at the community college.

One such student told Searchlight, “We did not have a teacher. The person teaching the Cambridge syllabus left, and was never replaced.”

According to the student, the two other mathematics lecturers at the college taught the CAPE syllabus. The students who wrote the CXC CAPE Mathematics exam had a percentage pass of 75%, compared with the 14% passes among those who wrote the Cambridge exam.

Of the 14 students from the Community College who wrote the Cambridge A’level Mathematics, only two passed, one with a grade C, the other a grade E. The 12 other students returned grade U.

The results in Biology, Chemistry and Physics, while significantly better than Mathematics also saw a large number of students with U grades. Biology had a 46% pass rate with one student getting grade B, four grade C, five grade D, seven grade E, and 19 returning U.

In Chemistry, 14 of the 25 or 56% of the students passed. 10 students got Us. The highest grade in Chemistry was grade C, which four students returned. Three got Ds, 7 Es. Physics showed the highest pass rate with 61%. One student got a C, seven D, five grade E, with 8 Ungraded.

A grade U means that the student did so poorly that their score “has fallen off the normal curve,” Senior Education Officer with responsibility for Assessment and Evaluation Marcus Caine explained.

Chief Education Officer Susan Dougan said that she attributes the high percentage of students scoring grade U in the Science subjects to poor performance on the practical papers. Dougan explained that this year, a new component was added to the Physics, Chemistry and Biology practical exams. She said for the first time, students were required plan and design theoretical experiments. Looking at the result profiles, she said, it is clear that this is the area where they fell down, as they did fairly well in the multiple choice and other papers.

One student who wrote both Chemistry and Biology agreed that the practical paper was the weak area for most students and blamed insufficient preparation.

“We were not sufficiently prepared for the Chemistry exam… we had insufficient practice. For the entire 2 years, we had 2 labs in planning and design.”

The education revolution is without a doubt Dr Gonsalves’ government’s trump card so a swift reaction by him was by no means surprising.

Chief Education Officer, Susan Dougan, herself a former Chemistry teacher, supports the Prime Minister’s suggestion of incentives. “I agree wholeheartedly. To attract the quality teachers we are looking for, we will have to provide incentives. A good science teacher is not going to remain for 10, 15 years at the same grade level,” she said.

Statistics obtained by Searchlight however indicate that the problem of under-performance in the Sciences and Mathematics goes beyond this year’s A’level results. The pass rate at A’level in 2006 in Maths and Science was lower than this year, and in this year’s CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam, the national pass rates in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology were 25%, 48%, 53% and 65% respectively.