No need to fear English SBA

Friday, October 20, 2017

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Dear Editor,

The well known biblical story of Noah and the ark has been told in Bible classes for many years. Very often, however, the focus is on the notion that many perished in the flood. But the basis of the story is underpinned by the fact that the people in Noah's time seemed to have been antipathetic towards change. They could not have allowed their minds to conceptualise a horrendous flood that would either cause them to drown or float, hence the demise of many.

The concept of change is as old as time itself, and the education system in Jamaica has to be poised to meet the demands of a world that is becoming globally smaller each day. One change that has taken place is the introduction of a school-based assessment (SBA) component to the English A/English B syllabi. Needless to say, this has been met with much trepidation.

Truth be told, there are indeed areas of the new module that, at the inception and probably to date, need clarification in terms of the execution of some tasks. Nevertheless, it would seem that many teachers of English are missing the valuable prospects that the SBA component holds, primarily because the focus is on the teething pains and not necessarily the long-term benefits.

The new component of the examination requires students to explore topical issues both from individual and collaborative standpoints, then reflect not only on the use of language, but also on the manner in which the experience would have affected their own way of thinking. In addition to a written component, there is an oral component which requires students, through creative media, to orate their findings.

May I reiterate the fact that this assessment holds a myriad advantages for the teacher and student alike, if the process is duly followed. The teacher's role as the 'sole giver of knowledge' is replaced by that of being a facilitator. And the student's role is changed from being 'absorber of knowledge' to being the 'investigator' and the 'producer'. Additionally, skills involving research, documentation, collaboration, and communication are promoted, and these, in my mind, are the tools needed for a 21st century student to function optimally in the world.

Arguments of school dynamics, time constraints, and students' ability may be presented as debilitating factors in the execution of this new component. And, yes, all of these factors have to be taken into consideration. However, schools, in partnership with homes, will now have to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the different categories of learners, so that no child is short-changed or disadvantaged in producing the best assessment piece possible.

Sometimes change means going an extra mile. After all, Noah did go the extra mile to find gopher wood and account for every animal, despite ridicule and criticism. As educators, the onus is on us to ensure the best outcome for our students, as challenging as the task may be. There may be hiccups and grey areas where this particular task is concerned, but I believe if we allow ourselves to go through the process with the students, over time the end will be better than the start.

The SBA is only a proverbial drop in the bucket with regard to the changes that are inevitable in education. Educators have to brace themselves for the turbulent waves ahead, but rest in the assurance that no one has to sink.

Alethia Brown




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