Teachers complain of poor student performance: ‘Form One students can’t read’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

STUDENTS CAN’T READ: Paul Ramlogan a teacher at the Carapichaima West Secondary school asks a question at the education talk series on the education policy 2023-2027 at the Carapichaima West secondary school on Tuesday night. – Lincoln Holder

Teachers have expressed concerns about the literacy rate of students entering secondary school, saying some students can not read. These students either slow down the lessons as teachers try to accommodate their level of reading or they disrupt the entire class.

Paul Ramlogan, a teacher at Carapichaima West Secondary School, said of the 184 students who entered the school in September, 99 got marks under 30 per cent in their Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam.

He was speaking during the question and answer segment at a town hall meeting, part of the Ministry of Education’s National Conversation on Education – EdU Talk Forum, at Carapichaima West Secondary School on Tuesday.

“I have a class I’m teaching in Form 1 that, at this point, is at Standard Three level. So my concern is, what is being done in the primary school that a child is staying seven years in a school and coming out and can’t read?”

He said the students were frustrated and disrupted the learning process for the others.

Newsday spoke to another teacher at the event who said she had Form One students who could not even spell or write their names. She said the teachers in her secondary school were told there were no functional remedial programmes, so they had to come up with strategies themselves.

In response to Ramlogan, Chief Education Officer Dr Peter Smith said the ministry was aware there were “challenges” in the literacy and numeracy levels of children leaving primary schools and going into secondary schools, which were made worse by the pandemic.

He said the ministry started to address the issue with the vacation revision programme which was launched in 2022 for students who got 30 per cent or less in their SEA results. This year it targeted 9,000 students who received 50 per cent or less in their SEA results in 2023 and provided additional instruction.

This year, the programme was extended to the primary school level where students spent more time in key areas of literacy and numeracy. He said the ministry also engaged school social workers and guidance counsellors to provide support to parents and students to deal with social and emotional aspects as well as developmental issues.

“Already, we have seen the benefits, we have seen a reduction in indiscipline and infraction, we have seen an improvement, even in the SEA, we have seen an improvement in CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate). In fact, when you look at the data, I’m seeing for the first time probably in six or seven years, when we look at it 26 schools, we are seeing more students writing CSEC than we have seen in the past few years.”

Earlier, speaking on the topic of remedial education, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said a remedial education programme was ongoing in 80 primary and 26 secondary schools.

“As a part of the equity in quality education and as a part of enabling students success, we have identified schools that need more support, and we are engaged in giving them that support at this time.

“They have been assigned school social workers, guidance counsellors dedicated to the school, learning support systems, we have trained teachers in remedial math, English and writing. And we have taken this program, a one-year pilot, and it has been extended now for three years.”

ATTENTIVE AUDIENCE: Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly speaking at the education talk series on the education policy 2023-2027 at the Carapichaima West secondary school on Tuesday night. – Lincoln Holder

A previous ministry release said in 2010, 32.5 per cent of SEA students scored under 50 per cent and 11.6 under 30 per cent. And the figures generally remained in that range over the last 12 years with fluctuations from 2012 to 2016 when the Continuous Assessment Component was in place.

It added that in 2021, 47.7 per cent scored below 50 per cent and 17.7 per cent below 30 per cent. In 2022, 62.9 students scored below 50 per cent and 27.8 below 30 per cent.

However, in 2023, 58.06 per cent of students scored above 50 per cent versus 37.06 per cent in 2022 and 52.49 per cent in 2021. Also, those scoring 30 per cent or below decreased to 13.55 per cent in 2023 compared to 27.81 per cent in 2022.

First vice president of the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Adesh Dwarika said, based on the report TTUTA received, the ministry’s vacation programme was not well attended so the burden of instructing the students was placed on the teachers.

He said generally, those with less than a 30 per cent score could not cope with the Form One curriculum so principals and teachers had to come up with their own remedial programmes. One problem was some teachers were not trained at that level.

“We must be mindful that not all secondary school teachers have the primary school training in order to develop those concept lessons and whatnot at that particular level. They would have had dip ed (diploma in education), which is really geared for students with some numeracy and literacy skills.”

He added that, after a few years, those children get frustrated and drop out of school as soon as they can.

He said a proper assessment of primary school students should be done to help secondary school teachers determine the exact issues plaguing students and address the situation.

“In consultation with the primary schools, the ministry would realise what the problems were. Was it the teacher? Absenteeism of the student? Socio-economic problems? Does the child have some attention deficit syndrome or behavioural issue? Academic? We could have gotten a sense of direction from the schools as to what could have contributed to the performance of the child.”

He said the schools could contact the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA) or reading facilitators from the ministry to train teachers who could then form remedial teams and implement relevant programmes based on the assessments.

Kavita Gosine, an educator for 27 years, said the ministry could contract teachers on waiting lists for a job, new teaching degree graduates or retired teachers and send them to schools to target literacy and numeracy skills. Remedial classes could also be arranged with ALTA or private tutors.

She said the remedial classes could either be done outside of school hours with the agreement of students, parents and stakeholders, by separating the students to be taught during specific classes or by completely separating the remedial students into different classes from the general school population.

No matter how it is done, she said the school had to be careful about any negative labelling attached to the children identified for remedial classes to prevent the possibility of bullying or other negative results.

She also did not believe the vacation revision programme was adequate, saying if the children were not being taught individually, the teacher could not target the specific issues of the individual.