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'PEP up!'

Educators urge colleagues to stop making excuses, embrace GSAT replacement

BY KIMONE THOMPSON
Associate editor — features
thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, October 12, 2018

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AMID the firestorm which the introduction of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment has stoked, some educators across the island are standing up in support of the approach, arguing that the skills taught are what Jamaica needs to effectively and successfully compete on the world stage.

In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday, the group of educators largely argued that dissenting teachers need to reorient their mindset and fall in line with the implementation.

“The excuses need to be thrown out the door,” said Brittany Singh Williams, founder of Spark Education, a just-opened, year-long after-school programme for students in grades four to six.

“Teachers need to refresh what they have learnt in teachers' college, because they have learnt it before... They're just not used to doing it. Just because you have not been using it doesn't mean you don't know it, so it's more of a getting rid of the cobwebs and going back to basics and figuring out what is it that learnt.

“You can't prepare tomorrow's leaders if you're not going to be keeping up-to-date and being prepared as well,” she argued.

Singh Williams, who holds a first degree in elementary education with a minor in special education, and a master's in global and international education, is also an advisor to the minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, and is an early childhood commissioner.

She concedes that while PEP is not a cure-all, particularly since it effectively is a placement series of assessment, there is substantial value to be had from fostering the associated skills.

“PEP is necessary because we have to bring our children into the 21st century and ensure they are critical thinkers and problem solvers, and the former exams have not supported that way of thinking; it's all been a regurgitation of information... I think it's an excellent way to get Jamaican or Caribbean people to become the next generation of inventors and creators,” she told the Observer yesterday.

PEP replaces the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and puts emphasis on the acquisition of 21st century skills, the list of which includes critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. It comprises a series of assessments, theoretically starting at grade four, which should feed into a profile of the student at the end of grade six.

In spite of that, it is being rolled out at grade six this school year. That, notwithstanding the value of the strategy, is the rub for one St Ann educator and another who is based in Mandeville who both requested anonymity.

The St Ann educator, who is principal of a private school, is of the opinion that PEP should be rolled out with the grade four students this year, while the current grade six students continue with GSAT until the cohorts catch up.

“I love the idea of the critical thinking; it's where we ought to go,” she told the Observer. “But the schools aren't actually ready, and starting with the current grade six cohort won't give you a profile of the student, which is what PEP is designed to do; it will only give feedback. Grade four is where we should start.”

Principal and founder of Glowell Preparatory in Portmore, St Catherine, Gloria Jack took it even further, saying her personal opinion is that the profile should be introduced at grade one “so that the children, when they get to grade four, will not be [shocked] because it takes a little time to transition from the integration of subjects to the discrete”.

Jack, a former education officer, said: “PEP is an excellent exam. It is excellent because it will show where we are going as a people. The critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity skills will be quite beneficial to the development of our students and to our nation, and since we live in a global nation called the world, we should adopt it.

“It's transformational, and teachers should accept it and accept the fact that we can no longer teach like we used to teach, or how we were taught to teach. They need to accept and plan and execute what needs to be executed,” she said, explaining that execution will require employment of the the five 'E's — engaging (with teachers as facilitators), exploring, explaining, elaborating, and evaluating (with students' assistance).”

Some support for the assessment profile has also come from the secondary school sector, where, two weeks ago, Cumberland High School Principal Darien Henry cautioned student teachers at The Mico University College against getting “caught up in the negatives about PEP”.

“PEP is here to stay,” he said.

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