Editorial | Sixth form diet an unnecessary distraction | Comment

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It should never be too late to reverse the course of common sense. But it seems that hubris and fear of embarrassment will keep the Department of Education at full speed through its controversial and untimely Sixth Form Pathway Program (SFPP), which few in the education system understand, approve or are ready to accept.

Indeed, last week, when Education Minister Fayval Williams tried to lift the lid on the project during her speech at the annual conference of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), she was greeted by a resounding “no”. Additionally, as this newspaper reported, several schools are scrambling to set up the systems, including classrooms, to accommodate SFPP students. In one case, in the eastern parish of St Thomas, a school principal’s cottage was being converted into a classroom.

But perhaps more symptomatic of the lack of curriculum preparedness, and why the idea should have been part of a wider review of the education system, is that even the Department of Education doesn’t seem to know how many students are enrolled in the program for the beginning of the school year.

In April, the Jamaica Information Service (JIS), the government’s information arm, quoted Ms Williams as telling parliament that 19,122 students had already registered voluntarily for what, from September, will be compulsory two additional years to their secondary education – 12,275 students in 12th grade and 6,847 in 13th grade. At the JTA conference last week, Ms Williams put the number of registrations at 17,000.

That’s a difference of over 2,000 students or 12% – a significant number of individuals who cannot have vanished. Education authorities should consider the discrepancy and explain what number was expected and can actually be accommodated.

GUARANTEED

Under the current setup, Jamaican students are guaranteed at least five years of secondary education, up to grade 11, although some pursue an additional two years of schooling in primarily academic subjects, especially if they seek seamless matriculation. at University. It is not these students that the SFPP is specially designed to welcome. They would normally be in the system.

Rather, the aim is to fill the gaps in a system where, after five years of secondary education, just over 40% of students pass five subjects in a single sitting in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations – the minimum amount generally required for enrollment in higher education. When five subjects are passed in a single session, 28% of students master both mathematics and English.

Within the framework of the SFPP, in addition to the pupils who go to the traditional academic sixth form, others, during the two additional years, will, depending on the grades, either opt for technical-type programs or seek skills for the general labor market. Students, during the two-year period, will maintain their enrollment in the school they attended before entering SFPP, even if they physically attend other institutions, including universities. Their enrolling schools will be responsible for tracking their progress.

Minister Williams defended the decision to implement the program as a result of an outstanding recommendation by the Rae Davis Education Task Force in 2004 to extend the schooling of Jamaican students by two years. The Davis report, however, did not simply suggest skipping those two years at the high school level. Rather, he called for the implementation of a “seamless K-12 system to include children aged 5 at the low end of the system and an additional year at the high end. This will result in an increase in the number of years of schooling from 11 years to 13 years”.

At the secondary level, the Davis task force has suggested that a grade nine assessment be used to place students on a two- or three-year path or on their CSTC examinations. Normally, students take the CSTC general proficiency exams in year 11, but the task force has recommended that those following a three-year track take the basic proficiency tests in that year, before taking the exam. general proficiency in grade 12.

MANY RECOMMENDATIONS

The Davis report recommendation, however, is not the issue at this point. This report was overtaken by that of the commission chaired by Orlando Patterson on the transformation of education, whose document was delivered last September, before the public unveiling of the SFPP. While emphasizing the need for Jamaica to address the serious problems of the early childhood sector as the foundation of the education system, the Patterson Commission offers a series of recommendations for advancing technical education and training and professionals (TVET), including ideas for the certification of skilled people in the labor market.

Patterson’s recommendations are being vetted for implementation, overseen by a broad-based independent committee. It would have made sense for the SFPP to be discussed in the context of the Patterson report to determine whether it fits these ideas, or which of them makes the most sense. The Department of Education’s decision was therefore not only premature, but an unnecessary distraction at a time when the focus should be on the Patterson report and recovering from the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. .

Furthermore, the Patterson report highlighted the weakness of the information and data collection system in the education sector, including in the ministry, which hampers good decision-making. We hope that in this scenario, tracking the performance of hundreds or thousands of SFPP students enrolled at one institution, but attending another, will not prove to be a fiasco.

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