Editorial: 38 percent is not good enough

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The headline stated, “652 CXC students fail to meet job and college requirements.” If you saw it and read the accompanying story, you knew that this piece was coming.
Cutting through all of the political and other spin doctoring that usually accompanies the annual Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results, the fact remains that sixty-two percent of the candidates who took this year’s examination did not meet the minimum requirements for college and jobs in Antigua and Barbuda. How can that be?
Are these results not an indictment of our education system? We find it hard to accept that we have a system that cannot adequately prepare the majority of our school children for tertiary education or a job. How can we ever become an economic powerhouse if the foundation is weak?
The data released by the Ministry of Education’s Measurement and Evaluation Unit is evidence enough that we need to take a long hard look at our education system.  So let’s look at that data. Of the 1,056 candidates with five subjects, inclusive of core subjects, Math and English, only 404 were able to achieve passing grades. Those results should give the entire nation a cause to pause.
That leaves 652 students without the most fundamental requirements to go on to some form of tertiary education and puts them at a distinct disadvantage in the job market. Without a sound, basic education, how are they to find a job and become productive members of our society? We are doing these young people and our country a disservice. 
If you think that we are being overdramatic then let’s hear from Anthonyson King, an educator of some note.
He said that these results are the most important aspect of the analysis of the effectiveness of our education system because it provides insight on which students have the minimum requirements for tertiary education. He referred to the fact that if a student wanted to attend the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, they would need to have five subjects. 62 percent do not have those basic qualifications. He further stated that the lack of proper grades put those students in a category where they are “not qualified to do basic jobs in the society.”
How can we boast of building a campus of the University of the West Indies when 62 percent of our secondary school students cannot qualify to enter? These latest results are, no doubt, going to stoke the fires of the argument ‘for’ the Five Islands facility to remain a secondary school, as originally intended. The obvious argument being, attention needs to be given and resources need to be spent at the secondary school level before we begin to talk about a university.
It is an argument that we will leave the professionals and politicians to fight. We are more concerned about the current education system that essentially leaves 62 percent behind. For example, we need to understand what is the difference between the top-performing government school, The Antigua Girls High School (AGHS) and the others? What are they doing differently, and obviously better, than the other government schools? For the record, 81 percent of AGHS students qualified for tertiary education (104 out of 128).
Further, what are the main differences between the private institutions and the public institutions? Is it the quality of the teachers? Is it the remuneration package? Are the facilities largely different? Whatever the case, we need to examine what works and what does not. We need to mimic the best practices throughout the schools so that all of our students, regardless of the schools they attend, have a near equal shot at achieving a sound, basic education and passing the exams. 
We can all sit around and ignore the situation, as has been done in the past, or we can take the dramatic steps needed to improve our education system and give the generations following a fighting chance. And the first step must be an acknowledgement that something is wrong and change is needed. 
We need to see education as the most important investment that we can make – beyond new hotels and fancy ports. The dividends that we will reap from a well-educated country make everything else pale in comparison. Education is more than just getting a good job with good pay and eking out a decent lifestyle. It is the key to progress. Major changes in society can only come from a properly educated citizenry. As well, education is the path to peace. 
If we can borrow the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Let us arm our people for the future.

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