Ministry of Education, Guyana

13 Dec The ‘No Repetition’ policy was the outcome of extensive research, debate and consultation

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The recent swirl of opinions in the media highlights the fact that there is widespread misunderstanding regarding the Ministry of Education's "No Repetition" policy.

This attempt to shed some much needed light on the situation and further the discussion must first point out that this policy decision was not arrived at in haste, but was the outcome of extensive research, debate and consultation with various education stakeholders.

At the level of the senior management team of the Ministry there was total concurrence, after evaluating all of the existing data, that this was the best pathway to embark on to improve student performance. It is also important to emphasise that the issue of repetition should not be considered in isolation but should certainly be viewed within the context of related variables such as overall student performance, classroom delivery strategies and secondary dropout rates in Guyana. Even further, strict caution should be taken in likening this policy initiative with the more extensive "No Child Left Behind" initiative in the United States. Although ultimately, if the intended outcomes are realised no child will be left behind, that intervention was far more comprehensive and involved various elements which are not part of this ‘repetition policy'.

Lastly, it must also be noted that this issue primarily relates to secondary education, as the percentage of students who repeat at the primary level is negligible and is being addressed through other interventions.

The following points are therefore vital in understanding the Ministry's position on this issue:

a. The pre-existing practice of requiring all children who failed a grade to repeat, had little impact on improving student performance. This was largely due to the fact that students were simply dropped back into the particular class with little regard for the specific weaknesses they had and due to their familiarity with the work were able to "pass" or "allowed" to move on. Sadly however, whatever gains they would have made by remaining an extra year quickly evaporated in the higher grades because the root causes of their problems were not being addressed. Inevitably these students ended up on the failure lists in subsequent grades so in actuality repetition led to further failure. The ‘sink or swim' mentality that has existed for too long in our education system ultimately undermines repetition and is intricately tied to the next point.

b. Repetition, as it was practiced, placed the burden on the students and absolved the school and teachers of their part in underperformance. There was ample evidence that many teachers, stuck in the outmoded, traditional approach to education, still regarded student failure as the students "fault" and never to adopted strategies aimed at identifying and eradicating weaknesses. Many of our teachers taught the curriculum for its own sake with the attitude: ‘who failed, failed, I did my job'.

In many cases of failure, neither students nor parents were advised at any point of the students' impending failure nor were strategies devised or implemented to avoid same.

c. Repetition was directly linked to high dropout rates, especially among males in the education system. In keeping with international findings, our research clearly showed that student who were made to repeat were far more likely to dropout than those who did not. When this was evaluated for students who repeated twice that likelihood increased to over 80 percent. In addition, a disproportionately high number of boys were affected by this phenomenon.

The cumulative effect of the psychological strain of being left behind while their peers progressed and its related social adjustment issues, coupled with their inability to cope with the academic expectations, inevitably forced students to abandon the education system altogether.

d. Repetition placed an inordinate burden on the education system. Teachers were left to deal with increased class sizes which were an automatic outcome of repetition. In addition, there was ample anecdotal evidence that the students who were made to repeat posed greater behavioural problems; oftentimes the manifestation of their social adjustment issues and their inability to cope.

These issues clearly could not justify the continuation of the practice of repetition and demanded alternative strategies be implemented by the Ministry of Education. As a result the following were devised to address the problem:

1. Replace repetition with systematic and consistent remediation. As stated above, it was clear that little was done in schools to address the needs of students who were struggling.

In many instances students were made to feel that they failed when in actuality the schools failed to implement strategies to increase their potential for success.

As such, the policy emphasises early diagnosis and intervention. Teachers should consistently measure the competence levels of their students and devise early intervention strategies to arrest problems before they mushroom. Remediation during the July-August vacations, afterschool programmes or resource room pull-outs have been proven to work when they were well planned and executed.

In addition, teachers are being encouraged to decrease the coarse-load of struggling students to focus more attention and instructional time in the core areas to get student back on grade level in these areas, thereby ensuring their future success. If this is effectively done, the amount of students needing remediation should decrease over time and should be non-existent at the higher grades of the secondary system.

2. Early intervention to decrease the probability of failure. As stated above, it is imperative that weaknesses are captured early and to support performance at the secondary level, numerous interventions have already been introduced to improve the quality of education offered at the primary level.

Emphasis is now being placed on ensuring that the vast majority of our students master the literacy and numeracy expectations by the time they complete the primary cycle.

The introduction of the primary grades assessments and particularly the new Grade Four Literacy Assessment and Certification Exercise are key elements in this regard.

Moreover, where students still encounter difficulties meeting the stated benchmarks the six-year secondary programme should equip them with the requisite skills. The hope is that our weaker students can access the support they need in the early grades, ensuring their ability to cope with the expectations at the higher levels.

3. In addition, the Ministry has been working to orient teachers towards adopting a more student-centered, competency-based approach to education, especially for those students who are at risk of failing.

For too long many of our education system has been content-centered with teachers teaching the curriculum as is regardless of their students' ability to cope with the level of work therein.

Teachers are now being encouraged to perform early diagnoses and make the necessary adjustments to instruction focusing more on the competence levels of students.

With this approach, more students will have a greater chance for success with the emphasis and objective not being whether a student is promoted or not but the actual knowledge and skills that student would have acquired.

4. Parent-teacher conferences and consistent performance updates are now required of all schools to inform parents of their children's performance so any deficiencies could be collectively addressed. No longer should parents be informed at the end of the term that a student has failed.

Imminent failure should be recognised, discussed and effectively addressed by all parties involved.

Given the above, the suggestion that the Ministry's policy could be accurately termed "automatic promotion" is a bit misleading since it fails to capture the range of interventions proposed to assist students who have failed.

At no time was it ever indicated, as is being suggested by some, that students will be allowed to ‘sail' through the system regardless of how they perform. What is necessary for it to work however, is ‘buy-in' on the part of the education stakeholders.

It certainly is encouraging to see the degree of involvement on the part of the public since the Ministry of Education welcomes healthy exchanges of ideas as we collectively work towards the improvement of the education system in Guyana.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:02
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