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From regurgitation to critical thinking Give PEP a chance to work

Wayne
Campbell

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

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The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. — Albert Einstein

For many years educators along with other stakeholders in the education system have debated the disconnect which exists between the skill set of our education system and the practical needs of the wider society. Many in the society, especially parents, are dissatisfied with student outcomes at both the primary and secondary levels. However, the major concern seems to be focused on the primary level, particularly with the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).

Since its implementation in 1999, GSAT has been used to place students in high schools. It can be argued that the education system, for the most part, has been unresponsive to the fast-changing technological world in which we live. However, in 2016 there was a revision of the curriculum at both the primary and secondary levels and, as a result, the National Standards Curriculum was introduced. The National Standards Curriculum is learner-centred and developed around the theory of Constructivism.

Constructivism is a learning theory which suggests that humans construct knowledge and meaning from their experiences. Constructivism is a philosophy of learning grounded in the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. One of its main principles is that the purpose for learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not only to memorise the correct answer and regurgitate someone else's meaning.

Under the constructivism approach to learning, educators focus on making connections between facts and fostering new understanding in students. Students are encouraged to analyse, interpret and predict information. As a result, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a more significant role in judging their own progress. It is important to note that Vygotsky's social development theory is one of the foundations of Constructivism.

Here comes PEP

The Primary Exit Profile (PEP) which will replace GSAT in 2019 is a series of evaluations which students will sit, starting in grade 4. In grade 4, students will be assessed in mathematics and language arts. In grade 5 students will be required to do performance task in mathematics, language arts, social studies and science. In the final year of primary education, grade 6 students will sit performance task in the areas of mathematics and language arts. Instead of having their future being decided over two days as was done under GSAT, students will be assessed over three years.

This more humane and practical move is clearly intended to remove the stress and apprehension which was associated with the GSAT. The society needs to scaffold the emotional intelligence as well as the mental fortitude of our students. A national assessment over a three-year period, as against a two-day period of assessment will undoubtedly produce positive benefits for our students in these regards.

A student in grade 6 will do a school-based assignment or performance task in December, an abilities test in February, and the curriculum-based test in April. As the acronym suggests, PEP will be used to generate an academic profile of each student. The PEP will assess students' knowledge in addition to placing focus on evaluating students' demonstration of the 21st-century skills of critical thinking and communication.

According to the World Economic Forum, students need to be empowered with social abilities such as coordinating with others and persuasion, as well as complex problem-solving skills as essential tools in the knowledge-based workplace.

In fact, in an age of artificial intelligence the society should be moving towards entrepreneurial education as a means of providing solutions to some of our problems. However, in Jamaica there is still a stigma regarding entrepreneurship as some parents, and even educators, hold on to the belief that students who gravitate towards this area are not among the brightest. This is a backward mindset, which has no place in the 21st century. The positive impact of the teaching of creativity has real-life solutions such as contributing to new markets and new jobs, especially for the youth population. We need to seize the opportunities which present themselves to engender entrepreneurship education in our education system. The World Economic Forum listed the top 10 skills by 2020; these are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility. The society must ensure that all our children are exposed to these critical skill sets.

Change is often resisted, and as such there are those who will and are resisting the move towards the PEP. We need to give the PEP a chance to work. Is there a need for more public education to engage stakeholders regarding the way forward with PEP? Yes, there is an urgent need to continue the conversation regarding the PEP assessment.

Oversight and integrity

There is also a genuine concern about the integrity of some teachers. The performance tasks or school-based assignments will be administered by teachers. The sad truth is some teachers as well as school leaders have questionable ethical standards. There are some parents who have the economic means to offer monetary gifts to teachers who in return give the student a higher grade. As a result, a system of accountability must be built into the PEP regarding the administration of the test.

For example, will the education ministry reserve the right to randomly check the grading of performance tasks at any given school? How do we ensure that some of our students are not disadvantaged in terms of teaching quality? Have all our teachers, even those who work in independent (preparatory) schools, been trained in the National Standards Curriculum? If no, what will happen to those teachers? How will those teachers be assigned in the schools? How can parents be assured that their child's teacher is exposed to the National Standards Curriculum?

GSAT has outgrown its usefulness. Our students should not be educated as if they are robots. Our students need to be challenged with higher-order questions which the PEP will definitely provide. We need to cultivate a culture of critical thinking in order to attain sustainable development. It is foolhardy to think you can repeat the same things over and over and get a different result.

The world has moved towards an activity-based, student-centred, exploratory teaching and learning approach. In order to prepare our students for their future we must equip them with the requisite competencies and skills necessary for them to compete on the global scale. Educators will agree that education is inherently interdisciplinary and as such we need to adjust our teaching strategies to meet the needs of our students. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Observer or waykam@yahoo.com.

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