The outstanding performance of some students in their high school exit examination is part of a larger, troubling, story in which too many of the nation’s students do complete their secondary education.
Leader of the Opposition, Godwin Friday said in a national address on education, Wednesday night, that too many of the nation’s children do not complete secondary school within the stipulated five years, if ever at all.
Friday, a former educator, emphasised the importance of education, saying, “A good education is the best inheritance we can give our children and a sound investment in our country’s future.”
He said the education system must be relevant to the times, develop the whole child and instill within him or her an abiding curiosity about the world and an enduring love of learning.
“At the moment, there is not enough support or focus on creating global citizens.”
Friday said that there were some outstanding individuals and a few schools that performed well in this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).
This year, SVG recorded its worst CSEC results in years, with just 66.55% of the students passing, a 16.93 percentage point decline year-on-year.
The figure compares to 83.48% in 2021, 81.86% in 2020 and 74.33% in 2019.
Friday congratulated the students, teachers, and parents for the results.
“But sadly, we know that this is not the whole story; it is only the good part.
The full picture is troubling, as far too many secondary school students do not make it to graduation within the normal five years, or ever.
“For example, at this year’s graduation ceremony of the Bequia Community High School (my alma mater), the principal reported that of 21 students who started in Form 1, only three made it to the graduating class of 2022 (which had a total of 12 students).”
The opposition leader said the situation was not unique.
“Other schools across the country have poor graduation numbers also. They are not getting the support they need from the government. Consequently, they are failing our children,” he said, adding that SVG has one of the highest rates of repeaters and dropouts in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
“This is a serious problem that must be fixed urgently,” Friday said.
He said it is accepted that a good education provides better options for young people and is an effective way to combat crime and other anti-social behaviour.
“The escalation in violent crime, especially gun-related killings, demands urgent action from the government to fix our failing education system so that it can provide positive options and more opportunities for our young people.
“The country needs less rhetoric from the prime minister and the government and more constructive action.”
He said the education system must cater to the diverse needs of students by providing programmes that engage students and motivate them to complete secondary school.
“This requires, not slogans and photo ops, but a real plan to deliver for our children, their parents, and teachers.”
The opposition leader said that the education system in SVG must not place an unbearable burden on families.
“Parents should look to the new school year with hope, happy that their children are finally returning to the classroom. They should not have to worry unnecessarily about the high cost of textbooks, shoes and school uniforms and ever-increasing registration fees…
“At this time of the year, school books, uniforms, bus fares, and daily lunches cut deeply into family budgets. We believe that VAT should be reduced to lower living costs for everyone,” the opposition leader said.=
Friday said that students who are preparing for CSEC and CAPE exams “should only focus on what might be on their test papers and not on how they would pay for their subjects.
“For those hoping to attend university, they need to know that there is an affordable way to do so; that they won’t have to mortgage the family home and risk everyone’s welfare to pay for their further education.”
He said that there are other things that the country can do, including eliminating registration fees for secondary school students, which he said are too high.
“CSEC and CAPE subjects must be paid [for] by the state. Parents and students should not have to go begging friends and strangers for money to pay for their subjects. Having admitted all students to secondary school and encouraged them along the way, it makes good sense to complete the process by paying for their exams,” the opposition leader said.
Friday’s New Democratic Party (NDP), which introduced the schools book loan scheme when it was in government, has been calling for over a decade for the government to pay for the fees for CSEC and CAPE.
He said that for too many families, the joy of securing a place at university is dampened by the fear of expensive student loans.
“Our student loan rates are among the highest in the region. We have a plan to cut those rates in half to 4.5%,” he said, repeating a promise the NDP made in the 2020 election campaign.
The opposition leader said that while the ruling Unity Labour Party has “become consumed with internal divisions and shelved succession plans, the rest of us who care more about our country must plan for the future.
“We in the NDP have a plan to deliver at all levels of our education system. It supports students, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, it is a plan that will build our education and skill levels to meet the needs of the economy and prepare our people for jobs now and in the future.”
Friday said that it was not the last word that the nation would hear from him on education.
He further said that he wanted to hear from other stakeholders on the topic.
“I especially want to hear from parents, students, and teachers about the problems you encounter and your ideas about how to fix them. As part of this process, I will be convening a roundtable with educators, employers, and other interested persons to further discuss education and chart the way forward,” the opposition leader said.
“I want a more effective and responsive education system that delivers for all.
I believe we can do better and I know that working together we will,” he said, and wished students and teachers all the best for the new school year and beyond.