Education reform raises interesting questions


THE Government’s policy of making education accessible to as many children as possible will take another turn next year with the move to phase out the grade eight and 10 examinations.
Education Minister Nick Kuman said under this reform, students will only sit grade 12 exams, a change in policy aimed at improving the quality of learning.
The education system in Papua New Guinea has always favoured the best and brightest while culling those who struggle at the bottom of the ladder.
This pyramid structure has seen a large portion of students miss out on a full learning experience in formal and state-funded institutions because they cannot pass exams to be able to move on to the next level.
It is not a fair system but it is one that has been in place for practical reasons, the most obvious of which is to do with the state’s ability to educate all who enter the education system.
The state simply cannot cater for every individual.
Other than the reason of volume beating the state’s capacity, there is the question of cost. The need for more schools will continue to rise over the coming years.
It is not hard to understand why a move to make the grade eight and grade 10 exams not the be-all and end-all for students navigating their way through the formative years of education, but as with every state initiative of this magnitude there must be other measures put in place to help smoothen the way.
Firstly, allowing more students through will more than likely impact on the quality of the students in general.
National mean scores and averages in aptitudes tests at each level will likely be affected. The range of scores for every subject and every grade will see extremes and this will surely affect standards.
One cannot have students of differing ability, talents and aptitudes progress through the grades and levels of education without providing a level playing field.
If the cost is too much, then that is the bed the state is making and so it should sleep in it.
This will work if making students in primary school and all the way to senior high school learn the core subjects of English, mathematics, science and social sciences, so that a student who is not proficient in a certain subject will not have to compete with students of a higher aptitude; he or she can learn the subject and still get value out of the experience.
Of course, the detractors will point out the need for one general grade average to attain in each subject in order to meet the university entrance requirements, but where does it say that a student cannot qualify for a place in university or any other tertiary institution simply because he or she is deficient in one area through no fault of his or her own?
The problem is not with the student but more with a system that groups everyone into the one basket without taking into account individual needs.
If the state is keen to increase the number of students and having them progress through the ranks unchecked then it should reconfigure the system to cater for as many different types of students as possible.
Otherwise it will be a waste of taxpayers’ money and effort to see a lot of effort put in for little positive outcome.
As the main provider of education, the state has a crucial role to play.
Getting rid of the grade eight and 10 exams should not mean that there will be no final assessment for those two levels, but at least the path will be easier to navigate for those who struggle to make the higher grade.
Failure can be avoided if the students are given the tools and guidance they need.