Concern over Antigua’s readiness for universal secondary education

ST. JOHN’S — A number of major concerns remain on the nation’s readiness for universal secondary education just a week after more than 1,500 students sat the inaugural Grade 6 National Assessment.

In an extensive discussion by a wide-ranging panel, key people expressed concerns and hopes over the system to be put into effect this year.

“My objection is not that children should not go to secondary schools,” educator and executive secretary of the Board of Education, Dr. Gisele Isaac, said.

“My objection is that we are sending children to secondary schools that they have proven at primary they are not equipped for.

“We already have universal secondary education. If you can pass primary school, you go to secondary school and that, to me, is universal. If you can’t pass, you don’t go because really and truly, if you can’t pass grade six what are you going to do in first form?” she added.

Isaac said she supports offering children that would have failed the Common Entrance exam a position in a vocational school, where she believes they would be more likely to succeed.

President of the Antigua & Barbuda Union of Teachers Ashworth Azille, while stressing full support for the concept, also raised concerns over the nation’s preparedness.

“We’re expecting it to be implemented this year and to date, we still have not received any great clarification as to how the ministry proposes to fully implement USE,” Azille said.

The head of the teachers’ union said he was concerned at a lack of human resources to help struggling or high-risk students. He added he’s unsure how timetabling would be impacted and feared the quality of education could be compromised.

Member of the special education group ABILITY Salma Crump said she worried whether the system was ready to accept students with special learning needs.

“From a special education point of view, with kids with diverse learning needs, I think our education system needs to strengthen its preparedness,” Crump said.

“I’m not sure we are fully prepared for the shift we are going to be headed into, come September. It just seems that as soon as you say special needs, everybody thinks vocational,” she added.

Special Education expert from the Rivier University in New Hampshire D.r Sue Gately raised concerns over how the USE system would group students.

Students will be placed in levels between one and four based on their performance in the four core areas of the national assessment: Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies.

Marks of 100 are available in each subject and the levels are to be as follows: Level 1 – 260 to 5400 marks, Level 2 – 180 to 259 marks, Level 3 – 100 to 179 marks and Level 4 below 100 marks.

“Homogeneity in itself is troubling because the students in level 1, teachers will generally have higher expectations of them,” Gately said. (Antigua Observer)

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