“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 skills 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 have focused specifically around the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which is the current exit examination done at the primary level. Since its implementation in 1999 the 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. The National Standards Curriculum which incorporates the 5 E’s of learning was introduced. The pillars of the National Standards Curriculum are Engagement, Exploration, Elaboration, Explanation and Evaluation. The National Standards Curriculum is learner centred and developed around the theory of Constructivism.

Constructivism

Constructivism is a learning theory which suggests that human 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 the main principles of Constructivism is that the purpose for learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not only to memorize 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 analyze, 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.

The Primary Exit Profile which will replace the Grade Six Achievement Test 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 Grade Six Achievement Test 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 twenty first 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 in the knowledge-based workplace.

Engendering Entrepreneurship in the Education System

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 backward mindset which has no place in the twenty first 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 ten skills by 2020, these are; complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. The society must ensure that all our children are exposed to these critical skills set. Change is often resisted and as such there are those who will and are resisting the move towards the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). We need to give the Primary Exit Profile 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 Primary Exit Profile assessment. The conversation surrounding the Primary Exit Profile also needs to incorporate parents who home school their children. I am almost certain that a significant number of these parents have not been trained in the National Standards Curriculum and as such those students who are being homeschooled for whatever the reason may find themselves at a disadvantage.

Oversight and Integrity

There is also a genuine concern about the integrity of some teachers in the profession.  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 will in return give the students higher grades. As a result a system of accountability must be built into the Primary Exit Profile 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 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?

The Grade Six Achievement Test (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 Primary Exit Profile (PEP) will definitely provide. We need to cultivate a culture of critical thinking in order to attain sustainable development.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

As a society the responsibility is ours to prepare our students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution some might ask? According to the World Economic Forum the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines. The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even our human bodies, for example, genome editing and new forms of machine intelligence. In other words the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the merging of the real world with the technological world. This is already happening; as we now have robots and software working side by side with humans. The blurring of technology into every aspect of our lives and existence has become the norm. There is no turning back, we either embrace this new revolution or we will be left behind. We need to move away from the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) which clearly does not prepare our students adequately for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is foolhardy to think you can repeat the same things over and over and get a different answer. 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.

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waykam@yahoo.com

@WayneCamo

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