Our Readers' Opinions
June 28, 2013

Let’s fix the Primary stage of the education system

Fri June 28, 2013

Editor: 57 per cent of students passed the Common Entrance Exam (CEE) and the education system failed the other 43 per cent.The excitement of the CEE once a year is almost equivalent to the SVG football team being in the World Cup of Football finals with all the excitements that it produces. Like the Football World Cup, it is also true to say that it is unrealistic to expect the best results from two months of focused preparation on issues that have not been addressed for years prior.{{more}}
In reality, our children are far better than the education system pictures them to be and if not addressed properly, a disaster awaits. Transferring these children to secondary schools is a plaster over a sore, as truly the problem that really exists has not been solved. We should be keen on ensuring that all students can function at the secondary level, rather than automatic transfers.

To transfer knowledge to the brain, it is paramount that some basic concept of how the brain processes information be taken into consideration. The latter is rather easy. Have you ever wondered why children are far better at quickly learning new technology like computers, video games, DVD players et cetera when compared to adults? It is because at that stage of their lives, principles are easily learnt, because all knowledge is “new knowledge” and there is little bias or competing analysis. As we grow older, everything we learn is based on things or principles that we have already learnt and we have already established what is possible or impossible. That is why as adults, we compare meat to chicken and hardly ever traverse established boundaries.

The problem with attempting to teach our children complex principles before they master basic ones, is that it makes it almost impossible for them to understand extensions of those principles or new ones, because they don’t have a proper foundation for comparison.

We all use the term “back to first principles” or “getting back to basics” when we find ourselves in a tight spot and it is true. When you master the basic understandings, you are nearly unstoppable, because when you have some difficulty, you can use those basic principles to navigate obstacles. If children in primary schools are instructed to master the basic principles, it makes the process significantly easier for the student and whosoever is charged with further learning; in this case the secondary school teachers.

With the understanding that basic principles are the foundation that knowledge catapults from, we have just easily revealed our problems. The truth has always been known that the CEE is not the problem; after all it is simply a test to assess the competency of the student for the next level. There must be a method of assessing the student’s ability to function at the next level irrespective of what system you design. The problem is that our present system does not necessarily prepare the student to function at that level, but separates or rather herds them into two groups of pass and fail. In professional sport, if a football team or basketball team performs poorly, the team is not fired, but rather the coach gets the sack.
The same principle must be used to fix the broken education system. I am not advising that the teachers be fired, but rather the methods of teaching be fired. A child who is taught to read, write and perform basic mathematical principles by age nine, within two years can attain all those complex principles that are presently being “forced down their throats” as early as from age five, and also better understand it. With such a system, we would easily have more than ninety per cent of the students demonstrating that they have mastered all the basic requirements for functioning at the secondary level. It would not be unusual to see that the children who don’t perform well at these exams are the ones who have problems with reading and comprehension. Reading and comprehension are necessary to attempt all questions in the exam.

The curriculum that exists for our primary schools is new, but has not really helped. Actually it may be even more challenging for the student and family as they now have a significant number of home based work that is more like an assessment of the parents and guardians rather than the student (I endorse the fact that parents and guardians must play a significant role in their children’s education). My seven-year-old has homework that without my university education I would have difficulty understanding and therefore be able to assist. My view is that I want my child to be far more advanced in knowledge than I am, but without basic first principles, how would she navigate future stages of education. Even worse is the fact that the students who don’t have a family member with an advanced education in the home would obviously suffer from not having assistance. We are already seeing that the top performers have one thing in common — family members with higher learning achievements.

I don’t believe that our children’s learning capability or capacity is less than those from Germany, Japan, India, the UK and Canada, but we give that impression by the percentage of students who have not attained a passing grade at our CEE. The PRIMARY education system MUST remember that it is what it signifies. It is the PRIMARY stage of education and let the secondary stage of education take care of its part. It must be difficult for a secondary school teacher to have to work with a student that has difficulty with basic reading and comprehension that should have been addressed and mastered at the primary level.

Many would attest that the “Education Revolution” has made a significant difference to a system that was already broken. It is true that there must be many persons who have benefitted from the Education Revolution. Repairing the flat tires on a nonfunctioning car can go a long way in making it road worthy, but getting the engine working and well-tuned must never be discounted. The primary school education is the engine of the “Education Revolution” so let us fix it.

Wayne Murray