Students are relieved after the first half of the PSE
On Monday, April 11th, students from all across the country of Belize went to sit the first half of the Primary School Examinations (PSE). Teachers and students spend years preparing for the exam. In some cases, the standard five and six curriculum is based solely on the exam. As a result, the PSE is no longer a two day exam. It is a two year test. Little attention is paid to important subjects like Spanish, Arts, Religion, etc. However, it is easy to understand why the focus is squared solely on PSE subjects. The studentsí entire 8 years of primary school is judged by their performance on the PSE. Likewise, the reputation of the teachers and school is based on the studentsí PSE performance. Schools with several top PSE performers are considered to be the best schools. Therefore, the teach-for-the-test policy is the only logical approach for primary school institutions.
According to the Examination Unit in the Ministry of Education, 6,960 students were registered to sit the Primary School Examinations this year. On Monday, the students sat the English and Science exams. The English exam is divided into two parts. The first part consists of fifty multiple-choice questions that test the studentís knowledge of grammar and comprehension skills. Part two of the English exam is the writing section that tests the studentís composing ability by requesting them to write an essay and a letter. The Science exam consists solely of fifty multiple-choice questions that test the studentís knowledge of General and Health Science. The students will sit the second half of the exam on Monday, May 9th. Those are the Mathematics and Social Studies exams. The Mathematics exam is divided into two parts. Part one is a multiple choice section consisting of 50 computation questions; while, part two is a problem solving section consisting of 10 problem solving questions. The Social Studies exam is similar to the Science exam which consists solely of 50 multiple-choice questions. These questions test the studentís knowledge of historical events and present social institutions.
In years past, the results of the Primary School Examinations was an important factor in the application and enrollment process into high schools in Belize. That is no longer the case and many are questioning the mere importance of the exam. Schools are now looking at Standard Four and Five report cards, teachersí recommendations and personal interviews in the enrollment process. Many institutions; for example, St. Johnís College, issue letters of acceptance before the Primary School Examinations results are even released. Organizations that offer scholarships look closer at the report cards, recommendations and interviews than they do for PSE. One very respected educator said that the PSE symbolizes the main problem with our education system. He said that teachers spend years judging and dividing students based on their academic ability. No attention is paid to alternative learning and a great percentage of the students are neglected. Students more passionate about Mathematics, English and Science are celebrated while others are left behind. An individual of technical or vocational intelligence will be completely ignored in primary school. The sad reality is that individuals may not receive the kind of support needed to develop that gift until they are out of high school- after they have graduated or dropped out.
It is always important to have an examination that tests the studentsí academic development. However, it is irresponsible to judge an individualís intelligence on an academic test. The Ministry of Educationís commitment to developing a system that equally emphasizes technical and vocational education is welcomed. That commitment may need to be emphasized at the early levels of education where most disenfranchisement occurs.