Features — 18 June 2016 — by Adele Ramos
2016 PSE: Students improve writing but still stuck in Math

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 16, 2016–At 9:00 on Friday morning, the 25 top performers in this year’s Primary School Examination (PSE) will receive their certificates and plaques at a formal awards ceremony which will be held at the Princess Ramada on Newtown Barracks in Belize City.

This year, Kenly Young of St. Andrew’s Anglican School in Cayo and Angelina Urbina of La Inmaculada RC School in Orange Walk, tied for the top spot with a score of 391 or 97.75%. At tomorrow’s ceremony, Young and Urbina will receive the Jane and Michael Nembhard Award.

Nelson Longsworth, Director of the Examinations Unit in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, has been leading the unit for the past two years.

Longsworth said that while overall there is little change between the performance last year and this year, there was a notable improvement on the writing paper for the English portion of the exam. This contrasted, though, with a marked underperformance in problem solving.

Students were asked this year to write a friendly letter, and they had to pick from four options for a fictional short story.

In preparing for the PSE, they have access to past papers which help them to become familiar with the exam’s structure and scope.

For Math, paper 2, they had 10 brain-busting open-ended questions.

“The disaster was here,” Longsworth said, adding that while there have been improvements in writing they “continue to see extremely poor performance on the Math papers, primarily the written papers.”

Students overall continued to perform the best in Science, for which the most common grade was an “A.” Students also performed well in Social Studies, for which the most common score was a “B.”

The PSE is meant to test how well elementary school students master the national curriculum. How did students measure up this year? When we asked Longsworth for his assessment he told us, “I would say that the mastery of the curriculum is definitely rated as poor right now, especially for Math.”

He said that students need to be given the fundamentals for problem solving as early as Infant 1.

“You cannot turn a child into a problem solver at Standard 6,” Longsworth said.

A part of the problem is that many primary school teachers do not have strong Math skills, but Longsworth concedes too that this could be a generational problem, whereby those teachers also did not have teachers who were adept in the subject. More than that, he told us that this is not a Belize problem—but also a regional and perhaps an international problem.

Longsworth also told us that there is as much as a 12-point difference between the performance of northern district schools and southern district schools from Toledo and Stann Creek, whose students did not feature among the top 25 performers.

Longsworth told us that overall, the two southern districts continue to perform at the bottom end, while the northern schools tend to outperform on the average.

Longsworth said that there are initiatives in place to tackle the problems students face with mastering the national primary school curriculum, particularly Math.

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