Once again, the ministry with a ‘fixed mindset’ has staged its ‘dogs and ponies show’ to celebrate what is possibly the worst aspect of our education system – the release of national assessment results. Year Six (NGSA) 2022 from the NGSA. NGSA is the annual sorting mechanism that ranks students and schools as smart or less smart – identifying winners who go to better schools and losers who go to less desirable schools. The ministry obsesses over one percent of the top performers – 182 students, although 16,223 students passed the exams. So what happens to the remaining 99% – 16,041 students – the majority? The goat bit them? Who cares if they go to poorer, less good high schools? The root cause of this problem is that we have created a majority of poor secondary schools when we need to improve all schools and make them comparable and equal. While all 116 high schools are of nearly equal quality, students can simply go to schools in their neighborhood. We wouldn’t need the NGSA to sort them out. It is time for all Guyanese to revolt against such a despicable, pernicious and elitist system. We want change now!
Why should a student from Region 1 leave his village and come to Georgetown for a better education? Is it correct? Is it right? Why should a student from Crabwood Creek, Wakenaam, Pomeroon or Leguan come to Georgetown for a higher quality education? A student or a family would have to uproot themselves, disrupt their lives and incur large expenses in finding accommodation, etc. to attend the elite school. Don’t we want to change this retrograde system? Why do we celebrate instead? Of the 182 students in Guyana’s top 1% at this year’s NGSA, 45.5% (81) come from schools in Georgetown, or District 11. About 40% (73) come from private institutions – many of them are also found in Georgetown. NGSA failure rates were as follows: 41% failed social studies; 54% failed science; 65% failed math; 35% failed in English. I worry more about the tens of thousands – the children of poverty – who fail, not the 182 who are the best horses. It’s a broken system!
Education, health and income are the most important equalizers in society. Life can go up or down depending on access to these. Guyana is at least 15 to 20 years behind in the development of an efficient education system. An urgent need in Guyana is smart leadership in education to break the old model, the old paradigm, which is an anachronism in the modern age of education reform. The NGSA – a placement test – inherited from colonial times when it was once called the “Common Entrance Examination” no longer has a place in 2022 and beyond. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins. This is a poor foundation on which to build a modern education system for the 21st century. I have to use harsh words here.
This is the best example of continuing malpractice in education that no government has set out to dismantle. Any new third party must make this the cornerstone of a platform that also includes the renegotiation of oil contracts. How, in these modern times, can a country design a system rooted in stark inequality and inequality across its 116 secondary schools of varying quality? And then they celebrate perceived winners and losers in an annual high-score-announcement ritual with their test scores, photos, and schools attended. In the United States, a child’s test results are considered confidential information subject to privacy laws and are not made public like we do in Guyana. We have no ethics, sensitivity and respect for students’ self-esteem or feelings when we celebrate the success of only 182 top performers when 16,223 students took the test.
The NGSA is a horse race. It designates winners and losers. The test is worth 523 points. Top scorers get the chance to go to 6 “top” schools located in region four. The cutoff mark for the top schools is Queen’s College-508, Bishops’ High -504, St. Stanislaus College-501, St. Rose’s High-498, St. Joseph High-495, and President’s College -488. These are considered and promoted as the coveted top schools that a student should aspire to attend. A child placed in one of these schools achieves elite status. You are a bright boy or a bright girl, smarter than the other boys and girls who couldn’t enter. It has even been said that QC students run Guyana. (See “Who Really Runs Things in Guyana?” by Peeping Tom, November 8, 2014).
At this point in our development, with the emergence and growth of an oil economy, a modern, relevant and aligned education system is essential. Our current system is disjointed, unaligned, with various service sectors on parallel roads. Our education leaders need to talk about reforming, reinventing, restructuring, redesigning, reculturing, rethinking, reimagining and developing a “culture of opportunity” that provides equal access to education in all schools and all regions. We can no longer justify Region Four having preferential status and the other 9 regions must be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the tables of the people of Georgetown. It is the intentional design of a moribund system based on educational malpractices. This must stop now. How can we only have 12 schools out of 116 offering the CAPE? How can we have 5 entire regions without schools offering CAPE?
The root cause of the NGSA Placement Test is that we have created an inherently unequal secondary school system along a continuum from poor rural schools to better and better endowed urban schools. If we use the $40 million loan to fix this problem and modernize and equalize all secondary schools, create equal access and equal opportunity to high quality secondary education, we can abolish the NGSA. It will no longer be necessary to decide who enters which school based on a test result. The NGSA denies everything we know about high quality education – learning styles, multiple intelligences, quality staff, parental and community support, equity, equal opportunity, equal access, inclusion, special education , academic rigor, access to modern technology, student and teacher support systems, and a culture of high expectations.
The Ministry of Education is our largest ministry with the most money ($74.4 billion+) and of great importance in national development. To whom we give a lot, we ask a lot. We need bright, dynamic and innovative leadership in this ministry, “Because we care”. Wake up Guyana! Fight for a redesigned education system! Let’s collect taxes from Exxon and build a modern education system!
Dr. Jerry Jailall