4 May 2012

English education system, dissected

I recall, in Trinidad and Tobago, I selected my ‘O’ level subjects at the end of Form 2, and began studying the syllabus at the very beginning of Form 3 (Year 9 for English readers). That gave me a clear 8 terms (and a few weeks) to prepare for exams.

Punks however, had to choose her subjects this term, and as she is already 2 terms into Form 3 (they do grow up fast, don’t they?), this leaves her with 5 full terms, and a few weeks, to complete the syllabus for her GCSEs.

I am befuddled about the ‘English’ education system that I encountered here. I use quotation marks for ‘English’ system, since in Trinidad and Tobago, we still have the remnants of an English system also… albeit an ‘old’ one. There is confusion in the grading system for example, which to me does not make sense. Punks is graded according to a ‘national level’ which seems to me a bit misleading. Why a ‘national level’ when the individuality of the child is never taken into account?

The distinct disadvantage which might have clearly occurred to readers, is that if the 'national level is low, then the performance of any individual child is also graded low, and a high grade compared at national level is not necessarily a good grade. For example, a mere 65% in mathematics might grade a child as well above the national level if that national level is, let’s say, 40%. So, in effect, the current system is one rife with manipulative possibilities and a ‘dumbing down’ of performance overall.

According to the figures, the national average for making expected progress in English this year was 72% and for maths it was 65%.  [2011 figures]

So, 70% in mathematics, according to last year’s figures, makes a student above the national average, but not necessarily an ‘A’ or ‘A+’ student.

One of Punk’s frequent complaints too, which I hear almost every evening, is that the children in school are poor in English as many do not have English as their first language. They struggle to keep up with the class work, not only in English but in all other subjects as well. Other students are then kept back while these catch up (else there would be a complaint of discrimination) and thus, no child really is given an opportunity to realise his/her full potential. The language barrier, so prevalent because of the multi-national composition of students, dumbs everyone down.

Punks has been chosen in her school, as one of 30 students to pursue an English Baccalaureate path. The English Baccalaureate is a new creation of the English education system:

It is not a qualification in itself. The measure recognises where pupils have secured a C grade or better across a core of academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language.

So Punks is now studying for her GCSEs English, Maths, Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Spanish, ICT, Religious Education (compulsory) and a couple of other subjects I cannot remember.

Only 30 students in Punks’ school were considered ‘gifted’ to pursue this baccalaureate. The problem is that these students are considered ‘gifted’ according to the national level, which does not necessarily mean they are exceptional students, merely above the false standard of the national level.

Another false assumption of following this baccalaureate path is that misnomer of ‘gifted’ which falsifies to students that they are exceptional. In a non-grammar school, most of the students who attend are ‘average’. Even above national level, they are still average. Were these students not average, they’d be attending a grammar school. By labelling a student as ‘gifted’ when the child is not, I fear that the child may develop and harbour a false sense of superiority.

Punks is not ‘gifted’ but she is a consistent and persistent hard worker. She is achieving high scores (above the national average, but also in percentages in grading) in English, mathematics, science (biology, physics and chemistry), geography, history, Spanish. Usually, she finishes her homework in school, and still has time to join several after school clubs, including learning Japanese, photography, drama, art, and she has started an after school club in which she tutors her classmates in Maths and English.

While I am pleased with her achievements, I cannot help but think the system is stacked against her realising her full potential.