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'Let's talk'

11-y-o wants sit-down with education minister to discuss PEP pushback

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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AN 11-year-old Portland girl is urging Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid to rethink administering the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) programme of assessment in the coming months, noting that thousands of students are on course to perform poorly.

Aldos Laidley Preparatory School student Jamokia Rose, who was interviewed by the Jamaica Observer during a visit to Charles Town in Portland last Thursday, said that the school-placement assessment has added “undue stress” to the lives of grade six students who have limited time to prepare.

PEP, which replaces the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), has triggered ongoing national debate, as stakeholders, including the Jamaica Teachers' Association, argue that there is a general lack of understanding about the examination.

This has since forced the education ministry to push back the December implementation of the performance task component of the exam to March 2019.

But the move is still insufficient for Jamokia, who believes that the current grade six cohort across the country, as well as those in grade five, should not be sitting the exam.

“I feel horrible about it, because even though GSAT is much easier, it's not fair for other children to be getting something that's different, something that's harder, and they know nothing about it,” Jamokia said.

The education ministry's website said PEP will provide a profile of where the student is academically; the student's strengths and weaknesses, and their readiness for grade seven. It will assess students' knowledge, in addition to placing increased emphasis on assessing students' demonstration of 21st century skills, which include critical thinking and communication.

It consists of three key components: A performance test, an ability test and a curriculum-based test. The performance test consists of real-world scenarios that will require students to apply their knowledge and skills from mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies. It will be administered in grades four, five and six in the classroom by a teacher.

The ability test requires students to read analytically and use quantitative reasoning skills in responding to items. It will assess the students' aptitude in numeracy, verbal and non-verbal ability, and abstract-thinking ability.

The curriculum-based test will assess grade six content in the areas of mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts. It will consist of multiple choice items along with other item types.

“I would like to interview the minister so that he can know how we feel about this exam. I would like to ask him why he changed it, and ask him if he would like to switch positions and be in my shoes. My classmates sometimes feel like they want to cry. Their parents are stressed about it; they are stressed, and then if they don't pass for the school they want to go to they will be crying some more. We feel pressured. I think of how stressing it is all the time,” the young girl told the Observer.

“I want to ask the minister to, if he can, change what is in place now and allow us to do GSAT. Even though he has pushed back part of it to a further date, I wish he could change it back. So I'm inviting Senator Ruel Reid to my class at Lot #2, Fifth Avenue, Buff Bay. I hope I can talk to him to change it back, and I'm sure my classmates would agree with me. So if he comes to my school, they will help me to talk to him,” she said.

The child's mother, Marcia Douglas, told the Observer that the introduction of PEP is causing “a lot of stress”.

Douglas, the acting colonel of the Charles Town Maroons, stated that there are no books to support the assessment and also that it is far more complicated than even aspects of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination.

“Believe me when I say it, I've had a look at it, and it is something that they have just thrown on the students. These children have already passed grade four and are on their way out of preparatory school or primary school, and looking into high school.

“I've been in contact with the Ministry of Education because I do need answers. I'm trying my best to get them to not do PEP this coming year. I really believe they should start with the current grade four or the grade four after to begin PEP. The children need time to prepare, and preparation is the key to how well they do and their passes. I don't see why we should sit back as Jamaicans and watch our children going through turmoil,” Douglas said.

Added to that, she told the Observer that she has had to spend thousands of dollars on books that do not cover the curriculum and testing method for PEP.

“I don't see the reason they are using the current grade six as guinea pigs. Not to mention the cost of books. All the books she needs for school I've had to spend over $45,000 for. There was no book on the list that cost less than $2,000. Believe me, I've heard the Government of Jamaica say free education, there is no way education can be free at the cost of this exam, PEP. You don't have books that support it. You have to find books and additional books,” she argued.

Douglas stressed that she is not against the assessment, but the way the ministry is going about introducing it.

“Come on, the Ministry of Education needs to sit back. The minister needs to look back at when he was being examined. Would he want this on himself?” she reasoned.

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