In what is likely to be the biggest shift in education in two generations, the “archaic’ Common Entrance Exam, set for 11-year-olds to transition from primary to secondary school, may be replaced, with a decision on its future to come by 2020, Minister of Education Santia Bradshaw hinted today.
But as she gave the strongest indications yet that the exam’s days may be numbered, Bradshaw made it clear a final decision would be based on widespread consultations on its future.
The sea of change is on a raft of reforms the education ministry is planning, including the creation of specialised schools and a revamp of the school curriculum.
Speaking in Parliament today before the House Standing Finance Committee, she said: “This is an archaic system that we have inherited. A system we continue to pursue. We have not realised that those who introduced us to the system have moved away from it. Zoning is presenting a major problem. The exam puts pressure on our students. These are deep rooted sensational issues. Each of us who have positions of influence must help to make the transition.
“I give you the assurance that between now and the next Common Entrance next year that we will be able to have a way forward as it relates to this exam. I don’t think it will take four, five or six years for us to make a decision as to what to do. But I hope that I have been able to contextualise what my vision is as it relates to the inefficiencies before the age of 11 that have to be corrected and the engagement that has to take place with parents in relation to top schools and lower schools and changing that attitude.”
Bradshaw said the role of Erdiston Teachers Training College was key to effect the change needed.
The Minister said:”We have to focus on developing the schools on our communities. We are looking at improving the school plants. We have to improve the quality of our thinking. We need more special need teachers. We have to focus more on skills. We have the ability to shape and integrate that into the school curriculum. I believe we have to teach skills at a younger age or at least introduce skills from the primary level.
“The focus now for Erdiston training has to be one of equipping our teachers to be more practical in the classroom. I believe that teacher skills should be focus on competence in the classroom. I am told the structure is 25 per cent practical. I have asked Erdiston to either level the balance or tip it.”
She said discussions on the establishment of specialised schools had already began.
Bradshaw said: “We have already started discussions with a few individuals relating to creating a centre for not just music excellence and the performing arts, but also in relation to sports as well.
“We are in the process of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of various institutions, because as you would appreciate there are some schools that are known for sciences, some that are known for the arts and it is really a case of carrying out an audit to determine what are the better programmes to be able to place within those institutions.
“But it is still high priority on the agenda of the Ministry of Education and hopefully within the next few months we will be able to roll out those specialty schools across the island.”
The Minister of Education said there had been no curriculum reform since 2001 and added that the time had come for a serious evaluation to take place.
But Bradshaw said for the review to take place, there needed to a new way of thinking in education circles.
She told the House: “We have to have people who from foundation up, know what they are doing and therefore we shouldn’t wait until a child reaches secondary school to now be introducing them to instruments, we should be doing it from the primary school level.
“So it also means that there has to be a shift in the types of individuals that we place within the primary school curriculum first of all and in turn we are saying at the secondary level we have square pegs in round holes as well. We have persons who when we check their qualifications may have excelled in the sciences but may be teaching languages.”
Declaring that the curriculum at secondary schools also needed to be overhauled, she told fellow lawmakers: “I think that the biggest criticism has been that the content, when you come out of school, you are not able to apply what you have learnt . . . and I think that the time has now come where we revisit what we are teaching our students whether it is relevant to them when they leave school.”
She said principals needed to look at the types of students in their schools that they could tailor a curriculum to meet their needs.