Home / View Point / Guest Columns / The cost of marginalising Tech-Voc Education (Pt 2): full certificates and the ignored gender agenda

The cost of marginalising Tech-Voc Education (Pt 2): full certificates and the ignored gender agenda

“We cannot simply produce a Policy for Education and not seek to educate the public on the value of Tech-Voc education. We must also demonstrate that value by offering Technology Education in all schools as a core subject in the National Curriculum.

“[…] Another concept that needs to be examined is the idea of ‘a full certificate’. This is defined as having a Grade III or better in five CSEC subjects, including English A and Mathematics, ideally in one sitting.

“[…] It is still the requirement for entry into the Public Service as a clerk and for several universities. It does not include Tech-Voc subjects.”

The following guest column—which is the second in a three-part series—was submitted by former Trinity College (Moka) principal Michael Clarke, who also worked in Curriculum Development at the Ministry of Education and was Chief Examiner for CSEC Geography until 2016:

Photo: A plumber at work.
(Copyright Zimmber.com)

If we are to achieve this desirable exalting of the trades, we will need to make radical changes to our Education System, both in perception and in process.

Tech-Voc courses have to be given the same respect as CSEC—at least!—and not be treated as courses for weak or weaker students. But the bias against Tech-Voc Education pervades the entire Education System.

Matriculation qualifications for the UWI do not include CVQ grades and they do not include passes in the courses from the Polytechnic in Barbados or the technical institutes in Trinidad and Tobago, which prepare professionals for the trades.

The currency in the CXC wallet of qualifications must not be seen as having big and small bills, CVQ being the latter. The root of the problem is that the old, deeply ingrained beliefs that one’s brain operates on one or the other of its two lobes are still influencing the policy makers and parents.

Contemporary thinking is that it is more realistic to see the brain as a two-cylinder engine. And both cylinders are important. Further, the two cylinders can be operated by different types of fuel, called Intelligence.

Thus, multiple intelligences, all of which should be seen as equal.

We cannot simply produce a Policy for Education and not seek to educate the public on the value of Tech-Voc education. We must also demonstrate that value by offering Technology Education in all schools as a core subject in the National Curriculum.

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia (centre) meets with students of Fatima College.
Garcia was a former Fatima principal.
(Copyright News.gov.tt)

In the interim, at least, Tech-Voc subjects should be integrated and open to all students in the schools where they are offered.

Another concept that needs to be examined is the idea of “a full certificate.” This is defined as having a Grade III or better in five CSEC subjects, including English A and Mathematics, ideally in one sitting.

This is a residual standard from the days of the Cambridge “O-Level” General Certificate Examination (GCE), which replaced the School Certificate Examination in the era of Independence. It had its origins in the requirement for further study when only 4% of the population was expected to be able to succeed at university.

It is still the requirement for entry into the Public Service as a clerk and for several universities. It does not include Tech-Voc subjects.

Is a full certificate needed for success in business? I think we have enough successful businessmen who did not earn a full certificate to say the answer is an unequivocal “no”.

But more importantly, we have to realise that the labelling of students as failures because they did not earn a full certificate is unjust.

Photo: An electrician does her apprenticeship at Bechtel Corporation in Queensland, Australia.
(Copyright Com Spark Electrical)

In 1974, the late Fr Lai Fook—in a study for his Dip Ed—examined the records and found that nationally only one-third of the candidates writing “O-Level” examinations earned five passes, including English Language and Mathematics. In the period covered by his study, only 20% of the children had attended schools with fifth forms.

In 2018, 56.47% earned a full certificate but the CVQ results are not included in that evaluation. The definition of a full certificate has to be changed to include Tech-Voc subjects.

A full certificate, after all, is like an Olympic standard in athletics! We applaud those who match the standard but we also commend those others who do well, recognising that meeting the standard is no mean feat.

Just as we do not disparage those who do not succeed in meeting the Olympic standard, we need to acknowledge that students who do not earn a full certificate are not failures. We see that in the workplace, where employees who may not have earned a full certificate before leaving school reach, with experience and training, managerial posts.

An aside: It is important to take note of an important omission; nowhere are there records for the number of candidates who were absent from the CSEC examinations, as a total or broken down by subject, or those who dropped out of secondary school before writing the CSEC examinations or those were not entered for them at all.

The figure given for full certificates earned is in fact a percentage of those who actually wrote the exam, not a percentage of the actual fifth form cohort or of the cohort that entered secondary school five years earlier.

Photo: A satirical take on reading.
(Copyright Glasbergen.com)

Keeping the Olympics analogy, note that in sports, males and females are ranked separately; we do not, however, do the same in our co-ed classrooms. That is another practice that needs to be changed for there is no justification for it.

In athletics in general, even in a marathon, we separate the results by gender. So we accept the difference between male and female in sport but refuse to do so in the classroom?

I know of experiments in two Junior Secondary Schools (as they then were) in which boys and girls were ranked separately in Form Three. In one case, the forms were separated by gender and, in the other, the boys and girls were ranked separately within the same class. In both cases, the boys’ performance improved.

For the last six years, on the initiative of School Principal Ms Claudia Lewis, the Diego Martin Central Secondary School has separated two of the three forms at each level in Forms 1-3 by gender and also, in the compulsory subjects, in Forms 4 and 5, where there are four classes.

The experiment reveals that there is a marked improvement in achievement by the boys. Analysis of the performance of the boys in the mixed classes in Forms 1–3 indicates that the boys in the separated classes did better.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) sits with students from her alma mater, Bishop Anstey High School (POS) at her inauguration ceremony on 19 March 2018.
(Courtesy Office of the President)

About 60 years ago, Sweden found an important difference in development patterns.  The intellectual growth curve for girls was a straight line but boys had a J curve, which met the girls’ at around age 17. Further, the study found that tests of girls at age 15 and boys at age 17 gave a reliable indication of Tech-Voc aptitudes.

(Our Youth Camps, which have now nearly all been closed, had similar ages for admission; but, as noted earlier, we attempt to determine the aptitudes at age 14+ for both boys and girls.)

It is fair to say, then, that boys under-17 will not do as well as girls of the same age, even in primary school. We, however, focus on that measurable difference and say the boys are underachieving. But that is a conclusion which we should only draw when, as we do in sport, we compare boys with boys, in the same age-groups.

Generally speaking, no one enters a competition which (s)he has no chance of winning. So boys will not compete in the classroom if they do not think they can win. They will deliberately “underachieve” to save face. This is compounded by the old belief that students who are not in the top 10% at 11+ in an academic test will be automatically good with their hands.

Slow academic developers, a reality educators ignore to their cost, be damned!

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as ex-Trinity College (Moka) principal Michael Clarke explains how the marginalising of Tech-Voc Education will make Trinidad and Tobago a country of ‘technicians’ and not ‘technologists’.

And HERE for the third and final part of Clarke’s series on Tech-Voc Education.

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