Blog: What Reforms of the CPE?
Talking of CPE reforms means reforming the examining system so that the backlash of these reforms may occasion shifts in our approach to curriculum, pedagogy, class management and school management.
Having said this, let it be said that Bunwaree is among the few to give a semblance of democratic participation in debates concerning reforms. He is also one of the rare Ministers to have the freedom to attack the vices of the system because he enjoys the trust of the PM. But he is also the one whose plans have miserably failed while rhetoric inflates beyond size the effectiveness of his actions.
What should we reform in the CPE? Access to understanding the message of the test must strike us. Apart from language papers, all other papers must be bilingual (English and Kreol). This means that we should review the status of Kreol in the curriculum. The writer is not to be trapped in a narrowly ideological base simply because he is advocating a new status for Kreol. Why shouldn't Kreol be compulsory for all till standard 3 and then becomes an optional subject as from standard 4? This will give everybody the opportunity to become familiar with Kreol script and grammar - a common heritage that is based on knowledge rather than on sentiment. Let language not be unnecessarily an obstacle to test the computation skills of those who have apprenticeship difficulties in the finer uses of language. Examination questions should not concentrate on testing memory skills only as they do now. Essential learning competencies should not be stretched to such an extent that it would seem the child should demonstrate mastery appropriate for secondary level. In fact the best students of CPE ultimately can rival their counterparts in secondary without a blinking of the eye. It is the way the subject is examined that makes monsters out of our children. Examinations should test critical thinking, analytical skills, the ability to guess with near accuracy; let the child be capable of revealing his imaginative skill, his ability to make moral judgements based on evidence. Pillay introduced the term " paradigm shift", Gokhool recited it like a mantra when he could hardly promote one because he turned out to be most conservative. In fact we are very adept at borrowing phrases that have a slogan like ring from foreign systems and apply them to our system. The thinktank on education reforms that surrounded Gokhool had little experience of education as a national system, but were knowledgeable about reports on American, British and French systems. If they found a catchy phraseology from foreign terrain they mauritianised it and passed for experts. Bunwaree lacks that entourage, but has a plethora of literature which he takes for his guidebook. In fact a paradigm shift has to be defined and a new roadmap invented. We cannot make a quick stew with the leftovers of previous reforms while the core mainstream is rotten. If we want to revolutionise primary education the emphasis should not be the curriculum, but teaching methodology. If we want children to answer comprehension questions after understanding a text, they have to be taught reading through interactive methods. The teacher's answer copied in a notebook does not make correct and successful learning. Let there be new examinations on novel criteria at standards 4 and 5. No primary school inspector should set such papers because they are the very bane of the system. Gokhool did not want any child to be left behind and yet 32% of CPE candidates failed under his enlightened leadership. Unless teaching changes, we shall have to weather such a colossal failure every year.
Mass teaching fits a special level of abilities. The learner with difficulties needs a different treatment. It is not a smaller class that will solve the problem because there are many classes of Oriental languages with not more than ten pupils and yet the rate of failure is catastrophic.
CPE should not suffer because of difficulties of exam-management. Why shouldn't Visual Art be tested? The empty rhetoric of our political leaders sounds hollow when they refer to multiple intelligence and yet inferiorise drawing, painting skills.
The methodology of debate around a concept paper is geared towards satisfying media, not the people. More and more today the identification of the media with the people is growing into a contradiction. If journalists are pleased with ideas, does this seal the satisfaction of voters who need not idea-solutions, but action-solutions. Most of the concepts found in the strategic paper will be repeated. Should we, parents, be happy with hearing that continuous assessment will be institutionalised? The fate of these concepts in the class should be our concern. The concept of the Enhancement Programme, however marginal, is motivated by the desire to teach through activities, to engage the learner affectively, kinaesthetically in the process of learning. But what has happened to EP in the class as time has stripped it of its novelty and as the camera of the MBC has receded and as the fees for additional working time start pinching because money is never enough? I exhort people to go and see the fate of EP in classes. In Oriental languages the portrait is bound to be more somber. Public funds are being taken for granted even if the concept underpinning the reform is gratifying.
CPE reforms must be based on certain criteria:
A. No reform of examinations ever leads anywhere if there are no corresponding changes in what happens in the class.
The class involves teacher's readiness, teacher's understanding of learners' specific handicaps, and strengths, teacher pupil interactions, attitude to the subject taught, vision of the theme, adaptation of the text to the level of learners, etc.
B. Reforms must bring about changes that are sustainable.
C. Enhancement Programmes are being used for purposes other than what they are meant for because teachers cannot sustain the project.
D. Reforms of CPE must be able to determine fairly and with a sense of justice the ratio of essential learning competencies needed after six years of primary education and desirable competencies.
We need to nurture a young Mauritian who has the qualities to go through secondary education to further education with values and skills that the new age demands.
E. Reforms should allow the child to enjoy his childhood while he goes through apprenticeship without unnecessary stress.
F. CPE reforms are useless if they do not drastically reduce the failure rate at CPE which in fact rises to the tune of 40%.
G. Do we want 12-year old children who can solve mathematical problems on rotational symmetry but who do not know Obama is the President of United States? Exposure of the child to the world outside texts is crucial.
H. Reforms should empower teachers to be innovators. The Ministry asks the MIE to prepare Enhancement Programmes for teachers who are expected to execute sheepishly. Teachers are treated as mere imitators - as second class makers of meaning. In this process of humiliation many teachers lose the conviction that should fire original makers of meaning.
I. CPE reforms should be such that the Mauritian child can read, write, count, play, swim, sing, paint, draw, listen to good music, dance, respect his elders, love reading books, and do all that any child must be able to do.
Reforms will carry success and failure but failure should not be such that the child loses his self-esteem and cannot rise again. This paper does not boast of going into details, but the reforms will matter only if they are strong in details.
It is obvious that CPE reforms should result in a non-discriminatory mode of admission into secondary schools.
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