Thursday, June 25, 2015.By Deacon Cal: In the year 2000, the PSE was introduced. The results were far from satisfactory. Today, fifteen years later, the results are not much better. The Minister of Education, many in the Government, and many in the Ministry of Education must be very disappointed.
The Minister of Education must be shaking his head in frustration. He must be wondering, “What more can I do? The Government of Belize/Ministry of Education has spent untold millions on creating new departments (TSC, TEDS, EDS,) and making older departments bigger (QADS, UB, DEC’S, and the Pre-School Unit,). All this effort and money and little improvement in the PSE results.”
The Minister of Education must be thinking, “I have done so much for teachers and nothing changes. Quietly, I have lowered the student/teacher ratio. That should have made a big difference. The Government of Belize/Ministry of Education has spent untold millions on teacher Education, workshops, continuing professional development and higher wages. Those efforts should have made a big difference in the PSE results. There is almost no difference. Why? What more can I do?”
The Minister of Education might continue to lament, “My advisors have told me to take more control of education. I have done that. There are new rules taking more control. That must not be working because the PSE results remain the same. Can anybody out there give me some suggestions?”
“Sir, I am willing to try. I sincerely hope that you are willing to listen”, Deacon Cal.
My first suggestion is to listen to your partners. You and your Ministry of Education seem to have dismissed your partners as insignificant. The teachers and managers have a wealth of knowledge of how to teach our Belizean children. Knowledge that no educators in developed nations can give to you. It appears to your partners that your advisors, your experts have convinced you that they are the only ones who know how to teach children.
Every teacher knows that if a child learns how to read, that child has an opportunity to be successful in school and in life. Every teacher knows that if a child does not learn how to read, that child has little chance to be successful in school or in life.
Because the Ministry of Education has not and does not listen to its partners, the Ministry of Education has made and continues to make horrible decisions that hurt our children’s learning how to read. The result of those horrible decisions is that the non-privileged children are not learning how to read well enough to be successful in school. Belize’s non-readers and very poor readers become at risk children and candidates for dropping out of school. Later they become our criminals, create violence and become poor parents.
Does anyone doubt that the majority of the children who passed the PSE came from privileged families and the majority of the children who failed the PSE are non-privileged children?
I will define non-privileged children as children do not receive sufficient help in learning school work from their family. Children living below the poverty line, children living in a dysfunctional family, children living with non educated parents and children living with parents who do not understand English are generally non-privileged children.
Every teacher knows that the future of Belize is dependent upon being able to teach our non-privileged children. Our ability to teach our non-privileged children math, social studies, science and other subjects is dependent upon our ability to teach our non-privileged children how to read.
The reason why close to 50% of our children did not pass the PSE in 2015 is because the Government of Belize.
Ministry of Education intentionally took an action for the school year 2007-2008 that hurt our non-privileged children’s learning how to read.
Our Present Primary School graduating class began school in September 2007. That was the first year of the Free Textbook Program. Those of us who can remember the months after the Government’s book list was first published will remember the outcry made by most of the teachers, principals and managers.
The outcry was loudest against the Ministry of Education’s/Government of Belize’s choice of reading books for the Infant Division. Most the teachers, administrators and managers wanted to use BRC’s reading books because BRC’s reading books taught children how to read by sounding out words.
The Ministry of Education/Government of Belize, ignored the teachers and forced its reading books on our children. The Government’s choice of reading books taught children to memorize words and apply some phonics.
It appeared to many, that the Ministry of Education/Government of Belize was willing to risk our children’s learning how to read for reasons we cannot know or understand.
They did a similar thing in math. Most of the teachers wanted to use BRC’s math books that gave a lot of practice. Instead the Ministry of Education/Government of Belize forced Caribbean Primary Math books on our children.
Children who do not have a good foundation in reading and math in the Infant Division have a difficult time learning enough to pass the PSE.
The unsatisfactory results of the 2015 PSE are the results of the Ministry of Education’s/Government of Belize’s hurting our children’s foundation in reading and math in 2007. That was done by the previous Government.
We cannot make great improvement in the PSE results until we get all children, including the non-privileged children, reading well. Your Ministry of Education Officials at QADS and UB must not have any idea of how difficult it is to teach children how to read when they do not have parental help. A large majority of our children are learning English as a second language. That adds to the difficulty of teaching our children how to read.
Belize’s children will have serious learning problems for the next eight years due to the mistakes/decisions that the Ministry of Education has made and is making in the teaching of reading due to their refusal to listen to teachers and managers.
For the past eight years, the Ministry of Education’s QADS and the Literacy Unit have been teaching teachers not to use BRC’s reading by sounding out words as the books are designed. Instead they are teaching the teachers to teach children how to read by memorizing sight words and guessing at words using onset, rhyme, pictures and context.
The end result of the Ministry’s teaching is that, even though teachers know that learning to sound out words works, they try to include the Ministry’s methods. Teachers are confused and the non-privileged children learn less.
Sixty to seventy percent of the children presently in our Primary Schools are not reading up to an acceptable standard due to the actions of the Ministry of Education. It is only by drill, practice of the PSE and good teachers that 50% of our children pass the PSE.
The Ministry of Education has ignored the research of four major English speaking nations (The UK, the US, Scotland and Australia). The research of those four nations showed that learning how to read by sounding out words and reading stories with words that the children have learned how to sound out is the best way to teach all children how to read and the only way to teach non-privileged children how to read.
It is possible that most teachers, administrators and managers could tell the Minister why 50% of our children cannot pass the PSE. If he would listen to them, he would not wonder why so many of our children did not pass the PSE.
The Ministry of Education officials who have been teaching the teachers to memorize sight words and guess at other words have spent seven years trying to convince the Minister of Education that Deacon Cal has some pretty poor personal qualities and that BRC’s reading books need to be re-written in the way that those Ministry of Education officials want.
In a recent survey (done in February 2015), 99% of the administrators supported BRC’s reading books as they are presently written. In April/May 2015, 95% of the teachers testified that BRC’s use of hooks, dots and underlining was helping children learn how to read.
Over 83%, of the teachers testified that removing the hooks, dots and underling would hurt some children’s learning how to read.
The Ministry of Education cannot be bothered by the opinion of 95% of the teachers.
The Ministry of Education has demanded that BRC take out the hooks, dots and underlining for the school year 2015-2016.
The Ministry of Education will not listen to teachers nor any argument for content and methods that help our non-privileged children learn to read.
For each of the school years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, the Ministry of Education distributed less than 80% of the learning how to read books that were needed by our Infant One and Infant Two children. How could the Ministry of Education have been so thoughtless with our children’s learning?
Do you remember this time last year? The same Ministry of Education officials that helped force BRC’s books out of schools in 2007 convinced the Minister of Education that our Infant One and Infant Two children would not be hurt by not having learning how to read books for this past school year 2014-2015.
Over the previous two years, the Ministry of Education had been doing a very poor job of distributing books on the Textbook Program. How could the Ministry be so unconcerned about our children learning how to read that they only distributed learning how to read books to 80% of the children for two years. For the present school year 2014-2015, the Ministry of Education distributed the stash of books that had not been distributed to our children over the previous two years.
Very few, if any, children received a complete set of learning how to read books from the Ministry of Education for this past school year. Unbelievable! Inexcusable!
What was the Minister thinking when he let that kind of reasoning influence him? Our Infant One and Infant Two children’s learning how to read for this year has really been hurt by the decision of our Ministry of Education.
Because most of our children in Infant One and Infant Two did not have learning how to read books this school year, our Infant One and Infant Two non-privileged children may have a difficult time reading and learning for the rest of their life.
If Belize had still been a colony, we would have screamed for our independence from a nation that would do such a thing to our children.
The PSE in 2021 and 2022 may reflect this Ministry’s decision. Is the Ministry of Education going to do anything to correct the damage that was done to our children’s learning how to read this past school year?
The Minister of Education is still listening to his advisers and not to teachers and other partners. Ministry of Education officials have convinced the Minister that they can improve BRC’s reading books by forcing BRC to take content and methods out of its learning how to read books that almost all teachers believe are helping all children learn how to read.
If the Minister’s advisors get their way and try to force BRC to remove the content and methods that help the non-privileged children learn to read, the non-privileged children will really be hurt.
If the Ministry of Education continues to go around the country teaching teachers to use word memorization and guessing as the way to learn how to read instead of teaching teachers to use the sounding out methods of systematic synthetic phonics (BRC’s method), all but the most privileged children will be hurt. And, eight years from now we will lament the poor results on the PSE.
A nationwide test has tremendous control over what is taught in the classroom. The Language Arts test that QADS/Literacy Unit is piloting this year in Infant One will really hurt our children’s learning how to read. I hope that someone will recommend a test that will test the reading that our children should have learned in Infant One. I would also hope that the test would test what the children were taught in Infant One.
I doubt that the Minister of Education will even read this article. I tried to communicate what is in this article to the Chief Education Officer. I did not get a response.
If the Minister would read the article and contact me to discuss it, I would also make suggestions about math in the Infant Division and both reading and math in the Middle Division. If the Ministry of Education will fix the reading in the Infant Division by listening to its partners, they will still need to fix our children’s reading in the Middle Division.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Belize Media Group.
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