English, a foreign language
Sunday, September 2 2012
THE EDITOR: The concern expressed by the Caribbean Examinations Council at the relatively high failure rate in English and Mathematics in the CSEC Examinations regionally must be appreciated. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the results in these two subjects reveal a situation of crisis over several years and resolute action must be taken to discover the causes and to find solutions.
While many hypotheses have been put forward as to the possible cause of the high failure rate, is this not but a reflection of the not — dissimilar situation which was being experienced in respect of the Common Entrance Examinations — an examination which was viewed with awe and was known to have caused heartaches among parents? This also brings to mind the former Cambridge School Certificate Examinations where there was a similar fear, even among very able and highly considered students, of receiving a proverbial “pf” in English and a Grade 111 Certificate should they choose the “wrong” essay in English at the Examination. so mortal was the fear of failing English.
Needless to say this situation seems to have followed the CXC exam with the noticeable exception that the problem has become more monumental with the provision of greater but relatively less prestige-type Secondary School opportunities.
Indeed this concern of the CXC is well-placed, should one only recognise the abysmally low standard of English which is being written in even highly responsible circles.
Some conservatives have attributed the fall in the standard of written English to the removal of “foundation” subjects, such as Latin and Greek, from the Secondary School Curriculum.
Again, some have attributed it to the “Extra Lessons” syndrome — a practice which, it is postulated, reinforces the generally accepted belief that English and Mathematics are inherently “difficult” subjects.
Indeed, in the case of English, have we not come to the point of accepting that English is a “foreign language” and that all which is required for preferment in communication is proficiency in the vernacular?
With respect to Mathematics, is there not a psychological disposition to believing that it is also a subject which is inherently more difficult than others?
In this regard, one suspects a mistaken feeling has developed, that the computer, by itself, is able to provide answers without a realisation that proficiency in Mathematics is indispensable for sound analysis in the sciences, physical as well as social?
This writer is of the view there is, first and foremost, a need to remove the psychological fear and bane which seem to be bedevilling these two subjects.
This has its origin in the societal acceptance that these subjects are inherently difficult — an acceptance which has found its way into the minds and attitudes of our secondary school youth.
Perhaps, as a contribution towards remedial action, should the CXC not give consideration to introducing continuous assessment in all its subjects?
One feels that such an approach would, at least, remove some of the anxiety of failing which students suffer presently during this annual examination “once-and-for-all”.
One feels that a less charged atmosphere could result in a more meaningful reflection of a student’s overall abilities.
Errol OC Cupid