Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Vincent McDonald | Be wary of PEP blame game

Published:Wednesday | November 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

There are some peculiarities concerning the recent debate on the new PEP examination that I would like to point out, notably, a concern centred upon a statement by Owen Speid, Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) president-elect.

Mr Speid's comment regarding the lack of a report on the results of the mock PEP exams stated that, "In the event that we set a test and when results come, not even one student passes that test, something is wrong with that test."

While that statement may be true, it's a statement that, at best, is a half-truth, as it could very well be that something is wrong with the learning of students. Simply put, they are not being taught properly.

One of the stated goals of the new examination is that in addition to assessing knowledge, there will be an increased emphasis on assessing students' demonstration of critical thinking and communication. It has long been a critique of Jamaica's education system that skills such as critical thinking are just not part of our pedagogy.

As noted last year by Dr Paul Aiken in a Gleaner article, "Students from the high-school level practise swotting, which impedes their ability to think critically when they matriculate to further studies."

As such, if a whole cohort of 40,000 students fails this new exam, it also means the teachers failed to communicate knowledge. The entire PEP exam does not cover new material hitherto untaught to students. It is the assessment of what they were taught that has changed.

Herein lies the rub: It could possibly be that our students are simply being taught how to pass exams. So when the JTA president-elect says, "The implementation of this National Standards Curriculum, which PEP is a part of, should take about six years for the students to learn to use the strategies and approaches that are relevant," it is not the test that will be fixed in those years but rather the students who will simply be taught to pass them. That will continue the cycle of educating students to pass tests and not truly be critical thinkers.

 

SWOTTING CRAZE

 

PEP was on course for failure because no one taught these students how to pass this kind of test. Once there is a deviation from how we assess what was taught, one learns that it's not what is being taught that is reflected in our assessment/results but rather how well one swots.

It is the case that our students are not prepared for PEP, but it must be clear as to why it is they are not prepared. The narrative being spun that it is the test that is faulty is not so clear and should not be stated so definitively.

In a truly educated population, you can switch the means of assessment overnight and students should still perform reasonably in a normally distributed manner. Cases where all students fail a given test are anomalous, and if this is the case, both our teaching methods and the assessment must be examined.

If indeed all 40,000 students fail the test, do not be so quick to dismiss the results on the foregone conclusion of a faulty test. The results could very well be a true assessment of critical-thinking skills in our education system.

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