Poor Performance on National Exams

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Since the inception of the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE), published examination results have sparked significant public debate about the nation’s D average score. Each year, progressively declining results prompt a concerned public to investigate the reasons behind the poor performance. Researchers like Janet Collie Patterson have identified five major contributors to the exceedingly low national mathematics score which strongly influences the modest national average. Her study concludes that students are the primary impetus for low scores, but other researchers disagree (Patterson 29). Ralph Massey and Michael Umameh-Achile have empirically examined potential sources of the mediocre scores and suggest the Ministry of Education may be to blame. According to them, the Ministry of Education contributes to poor performance on national exams by failing to provide suitable resources and by needlessly encouraging social promotion. 

Lack of resources is a substantial factor influencing student failure. Umameh-Achile, a college professor in Mathematics Education at the University of Bennin, suggests defines instructional materials as tools which make learning and teaching possible (28). He concludes that instructional materials are used for tremendous enhancement of lessons and impact if intelligently used and that they are physical objects that provide sound, visual, or both to the sense organs during teaching (28). Instructional materials are vital to a student’s learning ability as well as his/her performance on any assessment. In 2012, the Ministry of Education provided schools with active boards for teachers. Based on definitions of learning and instructional materials provided by Umameh-Achile’s survey, however, it is clear active boards are not the only necessary resources (28). Students of the Bahamas are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners, and educational resources need to appeal to all learning styles. Active boards appeal only to the visual learner and students who are not appealed to become empty vessels. 

Nancy Chick, director for The Centre for Teaching at Vanderbilt University states that students whose style of learning is not recognized will ultimately become bored and their level of performance will decline (n.p.). Gia Smith, a primary school teacher at Albury Sayle Primary School, also argues that because of lack of resources, “it is extremely difficult to do special lessons to appeal to everyone’s learning style” (n.p.). The Ministry of Education has provided the school with few resources to effectively impart knowledge to students. Despite the lack of resources, the Ministry claims to have a vested interest in educational outcomes. Prime Minister Perry Christie stated in the 2015/2016 budget communication that “The Ministry of Education, for example, is pursuing its efforts to strengthen standards for high school education as well as improve the quality of teaching” (15). Improving the quality of teaching, though, means providing necessary educational resources teachers need to effectively teach. Students learn in different ways and these resources help teachers appeal to each student’s learning style. 

The resources schools do have are inadequate. Books are outdated and unavailable for all students forcing many of them to purchase their own. Other vital resources like computers and lab equipment are also absent from the majority of Bahamian classrooms. Overall, the schools are in poor condition. In 2013, Royston Jones, Jr. reported that Uriah McPhee Primary School and Stephen Dillet Primary School would close because of health concerns due to the amount mold and mildew in the buildings. Recent reports highlight a similar problem facing sections of The Eight Mile Rock High School (Jones n.p). In addition to being hazardous to health, mold and other structural damage reduces the ability of teachers to impart the knowledge necessary for students to be able to study for and pass exams. Conditions like these also facilitate sit-ins and strikes from teachers working to fight for better a better educational system. While this gesture may prove worthwhile, it causes major setbacks and decreases the time teachers have to complete curriculum necessary for students to be equipped with the knowledge necessary to pass the national exams. Students are unable to learn effectively without appropriate resources, and a lack of classroom involvement due to shutdowns and strikes only serves to decrease the chances a student will learn the material and ultimately perform well on exams. 

Social promotion also impacts student performance on national exams and often results in students being moved into higher grades regardless of if they meet the requirements to do so. Marsha Wildgoose, a primary school teacher at Holmes Rock Primary in Grand Bahama says: Students should not be socially promoted because, at the end of the day, they come out of school and still cannot make a meaningful contribution to society. They can barely read at the basic level. It gives students and parents false expectations and little work towards it because it does not matter what grades they get; they are still being rewarded by being promoted.

The student isn’t learning, and even though the teacher is teaching, the student will never grasp the material unless he grasps the material from the previous grade level. According to The Coalition for Education Reform, “The practice of allowing students who have failed to meet performance standards to pass on to the next grade with their peers instead of completing or satisfying the requirements would need an extra program to help them. Social promotion without help is not a successful strategy” (11). Gia Smith asserts social promotion does indeed exist and is primarily occurring at the primary school level. A principle reason for this behavior, according to Smith, is a lack of space and the “teach and finish curriculum rule” imposed by school officials. She notes that students who cannot perform at the level they are place are very rarely unnoticed by teachers who want to help, but policy outweighs morals. Smith notes that social promotion continues to be encouraged by the Ministry of Education although it does not promote the best interests of the students. 

There are positive components of social promotion, however, and it is good for a child to be with their right class or grade because of their age. Opponents suggest children who are kept back may experience decreases in self-esteem if they seem themselves as unwise or unfit to be with kids of their own age. Nevertheless, it is difficult for a teacher to help a student catch up on unlearned material. If students are kept back, there is a greater chance they will learn and meet the requirements that need to be met to be promoted to the next level, and if learning takes place and all requirements are met, there is a greater chance performance on national exams will improve. As Wildgoose states “Some of these students are late bloomers and sometimes need some extra time to understand concepts and to master certain fundamental skills.” Precedent for this theory comes from Melissa Roderick at the University of Chicago, who notes that “After the discontinuation of social promotion in Chicago, there have been impressive increases in the proportions of students who met test-score cutoff for promotion. Results are more positive and students are learning” (n.p). This can translate into the same positive results in The Bahamas and student performance on national exams will ultimately profit.

Students in The Bahamas consistently perform poorly on national exams as a result of the Ministry of Education’s failure to provide adequate resources and persistent encouragement of an unnecessary social promotion program. Aside from active boards and a limited supply of books, schools lack the fundamental supplies necessary to succeed in learning and existing resources appeal only to visual learners. Furthermore, hazardous conditions resulting in school closures are delaying learning and hindering academic success. When students can attend school, they are often advanced through grades without meeting the necessary requirements, simply because of a lack of space. If these conditions persist, The Bahamian students will continue to fail and the national D average will soon be an E or F. The only viable solution is the discontinuation of the social promotion program coupled with increased funding to provide schools with the resources they need to engage students and provide an efficient and productive learning environment.  

Works Cited

Chick, Nancy. “Learning Styles.” The Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University, 2015. Web. 21 Sep. 2015.

Christie, Perry G. “Building a Stronger Bahamas.” Budget Communication 2015/2016. 

Bahamas Government, 2015. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.

Coalition for Education Reform. “Bahamian Youth: The Untapped Resource”. Rep. plainipolis.iiep.unesco.org. Coalition for Education Reform, July 2005. Web. 20 Sep. 2015.

Collie-Patterson, Janet. “The Nation Average is D: Who is to Blame?” The College of The Bahamas Research Journal, Vol. 14, no. 1, 2008, pp. 28-37.

Jones, Royston, Jr. "Two Schools after Health Concerns." The Nassau Guardian. The Nassau Guardian. 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 13 Sep. 2015.

Roderick, Melissa, et. al. Ending Social Promotion: Results from The First Two Years. Rep. University of Chicago. Oct. 2009. Web. 13 Sep. 2015

Smith, Gia. Telephone Interview. 15 Sep. 2015.

Umameh-Achile, Michael. “Factors Responsible for Student’s Poor Performance in SSCE.” Survey.  academia.edu. University of Benin. 2011. Web. 10 Sep. 2015.

Wildgoose, Marsha. Personal Interview. 15 Sep. 2015.