WHEN it comes to performance in mathematics, of the 169 public high schools in the country, 79 are categorised as critical, meaning that they consistently perform below the standard 50 per cent pass mark.
Add that to statistics revealing that only about 30 per cent of the teachers of mathematics are trained to deliver the subject, and elements behind the decline in this year’s CSEC exam grades — and the struggle to achieve national success in the subject — become apparent.
The Ministry of Education released performance data for the 2018/2019 Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC)-administered Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) Wednesday.
The two compulsory CSEC subjects, English Language and maths, were poles apart. The former recorded a pass of 82.8 per cent — an increase of 7.4 percentage points over last year; while the latter only managed 54.6 per cent — a decline by 3.2 percentage points compared to last year.
Last year, maths had a 57.8 per cent pass mark, compared to 50.2 per cent in 2017, 47.7 per cent in 2016, and 62 per cent in 2015.
It was a low of 37.2 per cent in 2012.
“In maths we have a journey to travel,” minister in charge of education Karl Samuda told a press conference Wednesday.
Asked if the situation represents a crisis, National Mathematics Coordinator Dr Tamika Benjamin told the Jamaica Observer that while it could appear to be so, the data shows an upward trend.
“We are coming from way lower than this,” Dr Benjamin said, pointing to scores as low as 38 per cent in previous years.
“We are actually trending upwards. Yes, there is a fall off here and there, lie this year, but we are actually outstripping ourselves in the long term and I believe that if we sustain the efforts that we have been implementing we will see the results,” she said.
Those efforts include the move to offer fully-funded scholarships through two teacher training institutions for mathematics and science subjects. In the four years since it has been operational, Dr Benjamin says applications for the mathematics component are increasingly oversubscribed, and the quality of candidates improves every year.
“The number of applications for maths outweighs those for the other subject areas, so that speaks for itself. We are also getting better and better candidates. We’re getting people with CAPE 1s, so the scholarship has become more and more competitive. What it means is that the system is starting to produce some better outcomes so, while we are concerned about the fall-off in grades, we have some good indicators and if we sustain them will we will see continued improvements,” Dr Benjamin said.
The scholarship programme, which was funded to the tune of $1.2 billion over the four years, has produced more than 170 degree-trained teachers who are graduating this year. That, the ministry said, is expected to plug some holes in the system as the teachers get hired.
Other interventions include the deployment of mathematics coaches to schools on the critical list, as well as a professional development programme for heads of departments and principals of said schools.
“Coaches support teachers through targeted professional development. They also work closely with students through camps to address concepts which have [been] traditionally challeng[ing],” Samuda explained.
“We are ensuring that all criticals schools administer the Grade 10 Diagnostic Test…which is critical in ensuring that schools have data on students at the beginning of Grade 11, which can support them in developing and implementing effective interventions to support students with learning gaps,” he said.
Dr Benjamin conceded that while “we still have a challenge in terms of having persons not qualified to teach maths or persons trained in other areas but are teaching maths”, it is expected to be corrected over time, as the ministry no longer employs teachers of mathematics unless they hold bachelors of education with specialisation in the subject.
In addition to mathematics, declines were registered in English literature, human and social biology, and French.
Meanwhile, other than Engish Language, the ministry noted that there were improvements in this year’s CSEC integrated science, chemistry, biology, physics, additional mathematics, agricultural science (single award), technical drawing, industrial technology-electrical, industrial technology-building, information technology, music, visual arts, and textiles, clothing and fashion.
“Six subjects had average pass rates of over 90 per cent,” the ministry said. “These were agricultural science (double award) agricultural science (single award), information technology, physical education and sport, principles of business, and food, nutrition and health.
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