Absence of remedial face-to-face classes hurting children, says principal

PRINCIPAL of Cumberland High School Darien Henry has claimed that almost 70 per cent of his current grade seven students are reading below the grade four level.

Henry said this is a disheartening reality considering the absence of remedial face-to-face classes.

“My worry is what is happening particularly with grade seven students who are really falling behind…students who would have been suffering from the learning loss issues. My school in particular, we have seen the significant effects of the learning loss. We have 134 grade seven students and of that number, almost 70 per cent of them are reading below grade four,” Henry told the Jamaica Observer.

He said his teachers were trying to rectify the issue, leaning heavily on in-person learning, but when Minister of Education Fayval Williams announced last month that only students preparing for exit examinations are to be engaged in face-to-face teaching, those efforts had to be aborted.

“We were trying to phase them back in, so at least they can get some kind of intervention in terms of teaching and learning. But as it stands now, that is what worries me. It is worrying that they won’t get that opportunity. Some of them are thriving in the online, remote environment and some aren’t.

“Some aren’t even showing up for classes. So, I guess the quicker we are able to overcome this pandemic, the quicker we’ll see the numbers abate, is the quicker we’ll get back into the classroom,” said Henry.

Up to last week only grade-six students preparing for the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) and students from grades 11 to 13 who will be sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) were engaged in face-to-face learning. However, that changed Monday after Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced Sunday that all schools must be closed and classes moved to online only, as part of measures to slow spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to Henry, with the current COVID-19 numbers the decision by the education minister to restrict face-to-face classes was necessary.

“A lot of us were very anxious to get back our children in the in-person kind of learning because that’s the best kind of experiential learning. But as it stands now, it’s the best compromise. It’s the best that can be done at this point in time and it’s kinda bittersweet, to be honest,” added Henry.

In January 2009 Prime Minister Holness, who was then the education minister, initiated the Competency-Based Transition Policy which stipulated that students were not allowed to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test or GSAT (now PEP) if they fail the Grade Four Literacy Test, which is a measure of their “mastery” in literacy and numeracy at the grade level.

For the numeracy segment, students were tested on number operation and representation, measurement and geometry, and algebra and statistics. The literacy component included word recognition, reading comprehension and writing.

Also, students were promoted to grade five if they failed the test but are required to resit the examination before advancing to grade six.

However, because of the pandemic, grade six students were not able to complete the remaining components of the PEP last year and the then minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda announced that instead, they would be assessed by the grade four literacy and numeracy examinations they sat in 2018, their grade five performance task examination from 2019, and their ability test results from February 2020.

But even with literacy and numeracy programmes in place, president of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools, Linvern Wright told the Observer that more needs to be done.

He said he has received complaints from various principals of secondary schools, saying students are matriculating despite possessing very little understanding of what they should know.

“That’s a perennial complaint, nothing is strange about that [as] that has been an issue. What COVID has done is underscore the deficiencies that we would’ve had,” said Wright.

He contended that the early educational years ought to be more aggressively funded and monitored to avert several crises hereafter.

“One of the real problems to me is that primary education and early childhood education are not treated with the urgency and the importance that they ought to be treated. It’s as if the advocacy for those levels of education is usually not very strong. So, because the advocacy is not very strong I don’t feel the ministry pays sufficient attention to them,

“Every one of us knows that the foundation is important. Until we can get most of our children in primary school to do better, it is a problem. We need to make sure that primary education and early childhood education are better funded.

“People who really want their children to do well seek to give them a good start. In my mind, education has to become selfless. We have to understand that it doesn’t begin with CXC – the work that is done at the basic to the primary school is the important thing,” declared Wright.

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