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Point and Counter-point: Tax payers money, high schools and the credit hour crisis

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Pallotti High School

Posted: Tuesday, July 13, 2021. 12:53 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University:  “A student’s cumulative GPA for the school year is NOT used to determine if a student passes or fails the school year. The Credit Hours determine a pass or a fail.” (2020-2021 Student Handbook, Sacred Heart College, p.17)

In two real case studies that I recently undertook to try and make sense of the above quote, this is what I found. These cases are from real secondary schools in Western Belize and they are real students. To protect their identities, I am using pseudonyms.

SCHOOL # 1:

Student Name GPA Average Mark for the year Credit Hours Failed School’s Decision
Student A 2.4 70% 13 Pass – promoted
Student B 2.4 70% 15 Fail – must repeat

School # 1 uses credit hours to determine if a student passes or fails. Students A and B have similar performance in all respects except for the number of credit hours failed. Here one student (Student A) passes and is promoted, the other (Student B) fails and must repeat Form 1.

School # 2

Student Name GPA Average Mark for the year Credit Hours Failed School’s Decision
Student C 2.4 70% NA Pass – promoted
Student D 2.4 70% NA Pass – promoted

School # 2 uses the average mark for the school year to determine if a student passes or fails. Students C and D have similar performances when credit hours failed is not considered (NA) and so both students pass and are promoted.

There are 54 government or grant-aided secondary schools in Belize, and about 40,000 secondary school students attending them. School # 1 and School # 2 above are two such secondary schools. It cost about $4,000 per year to educate a student at the secondary level in Belize and every year the government of Belize (GOB) takes tax-payers money and gives it (transfers) to these secondary school $3,000 for each child. For example, a high school with 500 students receives about $1.5M of your tax money to help to cover the cost of educating our children. In return the GOB expects the high schools to be accountable and report back on the students’ academic performances that they use our taxes to support. In the old days the reporting system was simple: the school set their passing mark (for example 50%, 65% or 70%) and would report on how many students ‘passed’ and would be promoted, and how many students ‘failed’ and would have to repeat the grade level.

Today many, if not all, high schools use the credit hour system to report on students’ academic progress and to decide on which students pass or fail. For example, for Mount Carmel High School if a student fails 10 or more credit hours, regardless if their GPA is greater than 2.0, the student fails the school year and have to repeat the year. For Sacred Heart College it is 11 or more credit hours and the student fails the academic school year and will have to repeat the grade level. In the year of COVID the number of credit hours a student can fail have been raised to 16 and 14 respectively.

Every time a student repeats, it cost the tax payer another $3,000 for the student to repeat the school year, and in addition can cost the parents as much as $1,275 if the student is going to Saint John’s College (SJC) and has to repeat Form 3! As I looked closely at this credit hour system currently in place in our secondary schools as the accountability tool for these schools spending tax payers’ money, the question that arose was: to what extent is the credit hour system as adopted by our high schools in Belize a flawed way of reporting students’ academic progress and their decisions to promote or not promote the children we pay them to educate? And should GOB continue to fund with our taxes paying money to such a flawed system?

After formally studying the system carefully over the last month my conclusion is that because the credit hour is not clearly defined and not consistently used across all our high schools. The system is also inefficient, expensive (it cost us a lot more through these arbitrary decisions about which student repeats and which ones are promoted), and oppressive, especially to those students coming from less privileged households who are challenged to find the school fees that parents have to come up with one way or another to save their personal investments in their children. It is also a clear example of where tax payers are not getting value for money, for every time a student has to repeat a class in high school tax payers lose $3,000 for subsidizing that student’s education for the school year they have to repeat.

But what seem flawed about the credit hour system currently been used by our high school administrators? The first problem is with the way they have conceptualized the credit hour system. A credit hour is really a way of measuring how much credits a student receives for attending a course which corresponds to the hours per week spent in the course unlike many traditional high school courses that require students to attend classes every day. Our high schools continue to use their traditional time tables that require students to attend classes every day and they call that 40 minutes teaching time a credit hour. So, if a student’s time table has them scheduled for 32 class period per week, then the student is taking 32 credit hours of classes for that semester. Under this definition a student can do anything ranging from 64 to 90 credit hours in a single school year. As you know when the credit hour is properly conceptualized to do a master’s degree over a two-year period a student would, on average, do about 36 credit hours of course work. In some of our high schools you would earn three times that number of credit hours in a single year. So, in our high schools there is a one-to-one correspondence with the number of periods schedule on the time table and the number of credit hours earned. In one secondary school that I looked at the ratio of credit hour (CH) to ‘teaching hour’ (TH) varied depending on the grade level. If you were in Form 1 the ratio was 1 CH : 1.2 TH, whereas if you were in Form III the ratio was 1 CH : 1.3 TH . But this near one-to-one correspondence of credit hour to teaching time was common throughout.

A teaching or contact hour is a measure that represents an hour of scheduled instruction given to students. A semester credit hour is normally granted for the satisfactory completion of one 50-minute session teaching hour (contact hour) of classroom instruction per week for a semester of not less that fifteen weeks. I was therefore surprised to find this common conflation of the contact hour and the credit hour so prevalent among our secondary school, and as a result the inflated course loads of our high school students. It seems like our high school administrators just imposed a credit hour system on a traditional high school time table calling each teaching period on the time table and call it a credit hour. What was even more surprising was that high schools were using the number of “teaching hours failed” to make judgements on students’ academic success. To me, this crisis is sufficiently urgent that the Ministry of Education (MOE) needs to intervene immediately and stop the process of the society throwing good money after bad. Please feel free to challenge any or all of the issues raised in this piece and lets get this conversation on national sustainable development going.

Dr. Dorian Barrow is an educator with a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Belize, and as Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is an eminent professional who is well respected both locally and abroad. He is serving as an editorial member and reviewer of several international reputed journals and has authored many research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.

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