Thursday, March 01, 2007

Problems of the Belize education system

Please have a read of this Channel 7 news story. This is alarming to say the least. How to solve this problem? I don't know. It would be a huge task. Personally, I just try and get as many Belizean children sponsored (through the Jaden Foundation) to go to the private schools. It's a shame that it has to be this way, though.

From the Channel 7 story:

Standards 6 Teachers Can't Pass The PSE Either

As we've reported, failure rates in the PSE continued last year and with examinations coming up in May, most educators concede that it won't get much better. And today, new information released by the Ministry of Education tells us why that may be the case. Late last year, teachers took the test and the results were alarming. Those were released to mixed reaction at a Ministry of Education press conference this morning. We were there.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,There are 355 standard six teachers in Belize - from varying backgrounds and with different levels of training In October to November, they were invited to take the PSE. Some didn't show up, but on test day, those that did were very much like the students they teach.

And the bad news is that they didn't do much better than the children.

In problem solving, 10 of the 300 teachers got between two and ten points out of a possible 50 points - that's a score of between 0 and 20%!

In the Toledo District, one teacher got 2 points out of that possible 50 - that's a score of 4%.

What's more, 98 of the 308 teachers - a third, outright failed the problem solving portion of the exam by earning a score of less than 60%.

But most teachers - 111 of them scored between 31 to 40 points, that's a score of between 60 and 80% - considered adequate score - but certainly not impressive.

In fact of the 308 teachers that did the math problem solving, only 12, earned a perfect score.

The district averages show teachers in Corozal and Cayo averaging the best with 36 and 37 correct out of 50 - average scores of about 75%.

And while math was worrying - the English test divided into letter writing and composition, wasn't as bad, but still gives reason to worry. 287 teachers sat this test and, again, most only did adequately.

Yvonne Davis,"The majority of our papers were at the adequate level. 141 of our teachers were writing at the adequate level, scoring about ten to fourteen points on the letter writing paper."
And on the composition again the greatest number, 115 of them were at the adequate level. 41 teachers failed this section of the test as well.

Overall, the scores are abysmal and the results profoundly worrying.

Chief Education Officer Maud Hyde underscored the concern: "When you face it, quite in this way and looking at the system across the board, it is certainly takes away your breath a bit and you know that you have to do something."

And that something was follow up courses to improve on their weaknesses. But the follow up sessions on Saturdays were poorly attended.

Yvonne Davis,"The response to the follow up was very poor I would say. For January 20th and 27th, the first two sessions in English by district overall only about 47% of the teachers came out and it fell on January 27th when 39.7% of them came out. February 46.7% came out and 52% last Saturday which was the last day of the follow up."

So who is responsible for these failures, first in the test and then in efforts to follow up?. Union President Anthony Fuentes was on the defensive, "The teachers will take this issue here today and see it as probably a deliberate attempt, maybe it might not be, but as an attempt to attack the teaching profession."

Maud Hyde,"The intent is not to necessarily be overly critical of what teachers and our teachers ability but as a nation to look at where we stand, to look at some of the things that keep us from seeing the performance from our children we would like to see and be able to address them."

Anthony Fuentes,"It is not only teachers who want but all stakeholders from Ministry, management, union, parents, children - all of us are involved in the delivery of the quality of education so all of us have to take blame."

And all those stakeholders, with the exception of children and parents were at the head table - and all could point to a contributory cause. Management, represented by the Chair of the Association of School Managers Carol Babb said it was the quality of teachers.

Carol Babb,"I was watching some of your expressions, your facial expressions when you learnt about the results of the PSE that the teachers themselves took. As a manager I am telling you that everyday we are faced with filling vacancies and being unable to find qualified teachers to fill those vacancies. Right now I look at one of my larger Anglican schools and at that school there are only three trained teachers and the principal and I, she came to me and she asked me what are we going to do?"

Indeed what to do, less than half the teachers are trained, one of them with only a standard six diploma.

Carol Babb,"We have to admit too that in very remote villages, teachers don't qualify, teachers don't want to go there and sometimes you have to take what you get. And I am talking from experience. I would have problems right now to find somebody to go to Punta Negra. Nobody wants to go to those places and I am sure in the case of that teacher that has a primary school certificate, that might be the only person who is willing to go there."

Problems wide and far reaching, and a test that now is failing both students and teachers. But Hyde says, nothing is wrong with the test,"If the system is not measuring up to what the expectations are, then the system needs to be addressed."
Jules Vasquez,"How can you say that the system has to measure up, no in the system punishes. You get 100% of your salary, these teachers will get 100% of their salary, these kids get half a life?"

Maud Hyde,"I think that is putting it a bit strongly. Half a life…we wouldn't want to say that our children can't succeed if they don't do well on PSE. Examinations are a necessary evil some people would say but education is not all about examination."

With no stated targets for improvement - and a clear indication that many teacher just cannot teach what they don't know - Hyde says things are under control - this is not a crisis.

Maud Hyde,"Whether we're in a crisis, I wouldn't say so. A crisis to me is something where everything is falling down. I don't think everything is falling down."