Touria Prayag's Blog

Keeping our eye on the ball 14 November 2013

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on January 23, 2015

The eye of the storm is now in the ministry
of education after the minister of fi nance
mentioned the nine-year schooling project
during the budget speech, thus swinging
the spotlight back to it. Talk about school
reforms and particularly the Certifi cate of
Primary Education exam has not always
been dispassionate in this country. It has
always started at hysterical and quickly
geared up to apocalyptic. And it has hardly
been disinterested. It is always seen in terms
of communities and what they stand to lose
and, before we get anywhere, it soon starts
raining frogs and blood.
This time round, the debate will again suck
everyone in. Over 25,000 pupils take the CPE
exam every year. Do the math and you will
realise that just about everyone is concerned.
So, this is the time to ask questions and make
sure we do not lose focus of the real issues.
Pedagogically speaking, there has, for a number
of years now, been a consensus around
the nine-years schooling idea. So, the fact that
the minister of education has fi nally had the
courage to go that way and the minister of
fi nance has given his support, shows that there
are good intentions out there. However, as we
all know, ‘the road to hell is paved with good
intentions’. It is important that we do not rush
into a half-baked project.
The real problem with our education system
is not that it is too competitive. It is too
competitive too early. We all realise by now
that we cannot shelter our children from
competition forever. So, by moving the
competition to a more reasonable age, we
are allowing our children to have a better,
more fulfi lling childhood, away from the
crazy pressure and the mad race which the
child now faces at the age of 11.
Also, we have not yet come to terms with the
fact that the world has become a global village
and that we are therefore not competing with
the child sitting next to us but with the kid in
Kerala, New York and Shenzhen. So, it is
time we opened up to each other and stopped
thinking that by improving the distribution
of our national cake, we are decreasing our
chances of moving ahead in life. We are not.
In the global village, the only recipe for success
is through closing ranks and placing the competition
where it belongs: beyond our frontiers.
In this debate, we should also not lose sight
of the practicalities. I do share Steven
Obeegadoo’s concerns about 14-year-olds
sharing the same school with fi ve-year-olds.
These objections will be raised by parents
soon enough and should therefore be addressed
before any decision has been taken.
Also, once the CPE is gone as an exam, what
will it to be replaced with? What we don’t
want is have a situation where the illiteracy
of some of our children is shifted to secondary
school. The automatic promotion has to
stop and our children’s weaknesses have to
be diagnosed and remedied at every stage of
their development. As it is, we have children
scraping through CPE who are not much
better than those left behind. We have to
avoid a situation where pupils come out of
Form III without the necessary reading and
writing skills.
And, more importantly, let’s stop fooling
ourselves: the problems with our education
system will not end by magic. We have to
invest further in after-school care. The nineyear
schooling project is commendable but is
not a magic wand. But we’ll weather that storm
when we get to it.


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