Saturday, March 10, 2007

In Search Of ... Educational Data

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D

On Saturday, February 25th 2005, Bill Gates blasted the state of U.S. high schools in a speech before the National Association of Governors Education Summit in the Washington, DC.

Listening to Gates on C-Span, I was compelled to compare his concerns about the state of education in America to my own concern about the state of education in Antigua and Barbuda.

Gates said that he was “ashamed” and “appalled” at the failure rates for students. He called America’s high schools broken, flawed and under-funded, and said the system itself is obsolete. Gates comments were fueled by the fact that “statistics” showed that when compared to twenty other ‘developed’ nations (mainly European countries) American education ranked quite low in most areas.

I struggled to compare our education with that of any other country outside the Caribbean. Why? Because, while educational ‘statistics’ are easily obtainable in any district or state in America, getting information on our students in Antigua and Barbuda is downright difficult – if not almost impossible. ‘Difficult’ because what ever little data have been collected, they are not easily available or accessible. ‘Almost impossible’ because a lot of the data have not been collected and collated to be made sense of and then reported!

I could fill this article with hundreds of questions that have been burning within me for years. Questions for which, many of my friends in education have had either no answers to, avoided, or presented circuitous, pathetic, ‘shameful’, ‘appalling’ and at best, poor defensive retorts.

Here are a few questions: What is the reading level of students who enter First Form in our secondary schools? And, by the way, is there a way to measure the level those students are reading at? What percentage of them need remedial work in mathematics (or Reading, Writing, or English) when they first enter the secondary education system? How many of the students who enter First Form graduate on time? Which Form do they tend to repeat the most? How many graduate at all?

Do we have data on all students and in all schools as they move from grade to grade or from form to form? In other words, can and do we track students from the time they enter the formal educational system until they graduate (or drop out)? By the way, what are our drop-out rates? I mean the ‘real figures’? For those who drop out… what propels them to leave? Is it age, poor academic results, poverty and family pressure to work, drug and alcohol use, gangs, negative peer pressure, pregnancy, or just a lack of motivation to complete their education?

How many post-primary students graduate on time? Are they tracked differently from those students who enter the secondary school at First Form? What general difficulties do the Post Primary Students have and in which subject areas do they have problems? Are these problems different from their peers who entered directly into First Form?

What does graduation mean anyway? Does it mean that a student has ‘completed’ Fifth Form? Or, does it mean that the student has successfully met a pre-determined standard of achievement? And, what is this standard of achievement and how is it measured?

When a student enters the secondary level, what ought to be his/her minimum goals for success at ‘graduation’? Should it be to pass five CXC subjects at a certain level? Should it be to ‘just get through’ 5th Form – that being the key to attend the ‘graduation ceremony’? Or should there be something else? What does ‘get through’? Does it mean that the student reached 5th Form, stayed in 5th Form until the end of the school year… even though he or she did not pass any subjects?

If the standard of achievement is taking the CXC Examinations, then what is the standard of achievement that says to a student: “You have successfully met the minimum requirements to be designated as a ‘Secondary School Graduate’”? And, if such a student has met those minimum requirements for ‘graduation’… should that student not get a Secondary School Diploma from the Ministry of Education?

I have presented in this article, a few of the many questions that I and many others need answers to. The intention here is not criticize but to critique, not to impeach but to inspire, not to enrage but to engage our leaders in education to look at the deeper issues. My purpose here is to encourage them not only to inform, not only to reform, but to radically transform the Antiguan and Barbuda education system – not the OECS, not CARICOM… but the Antigua and Barbuda education system!