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PNG still struggles to get its education reforms right

De la Salle Secondary exams
Students at De la Salle Secondary School during their Grade 12 mathematics examination

RAYMOND SIGIMET

DAGUA - In May this year, national education secretary Dr Uke Kombra announced that 72,000 Grade 10 students would sit their English written expression examination on 7 June.

Examinations would be conducted in 322 provincial high and secondary schools across Papua New Guinea, an increase from last year’s 69,000 students in 301 schools.

Next month, from 8-12 October, Grade 10 students from all over the country will sit for the Lower Secondary School Certificate Examinations (LSSCE) set by the Measurement Service Division.

The LSSCE is an outcome-based education (OBE) reform which phased out the previous ‘objective’ School Certificate Examinations (SCE) about eight years ago.

In 2010, under the OBE reform, once non-examined subjects became nationally tested subjects alongside the four traditional English, Mathematics, Science and Social Science.

To be eligible for a Lower Secondary School Certificate, students have to study seven subjects that are externally examined in Grade 10.

The seven include three compulsory subjects - English, mathematics and personal development – four optional subjects selected from science, social science, business studies, agriculture, expressive arts, home economics, practical skills or design & technology.

The move to from four to seven examinable subjects increased the workload for teachers and students. Required assessment quotas were set and teachers compete for the testing time allocated each week by school administrations.

Teachers are now use lesson time to give tests each week to prepare their students for the exams. Students often find they need to study for two or three different tests given on the same day.

Lower secondary students now have more assignments and tests to do each week and teachers have less than two academic years to prepare them for the lower secondary examinations.

Some students cannot cope with this workload and perform below what is expected at this level. Also most teachers cannot cope with the increase in class numbers and the increased marking burden if they are teaching three or four different subjects to two different grades.

In rural or ‘problem’ schools, students often perform below the expected standard which is a cause for concern. Teachers operating in this learning environment are often depressed and become disillusioned and complacent in their work.

It is common to hear teachers complain about reviewing subjects with students before giving a test and finding out after marking that they have still performed poorly.

The free education policy and sometimes relaxed manner in which some secondary school authorities enrol students who are not capable or who are repeating leads to an overload of students in the classroom, much more work for the teacher and greater discipline and attitude problems.

For the Lower Secondary School Certificate, teachers and students play catch-up to meet the requirements. Teachers are expected to teach and prepare students in seven subjects for the national examinations in less than two years.

The OBE structure of three years elementary, six years primary and four years secondary (3-6-4) is now to be replaced with the new standard-based education (SBE) structural reform of one year preparatory, six years primary and six years secondary (1-6-6).

This is more suitable and is similar to the previous system with Grades 7 and 8 moving back to the secondary level.

Hopefully, this will give more time for teachers and students to prepare for the Lower Secondary School Certificate examinations until they are phased out as part of the new reforms.

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