The truth about school curricula is that the experts on education have no real idea what should or should not be on any particular curriculum. Educators are really guessing when they include and exclude subject matter; when they change the style of examinations; or when they modify syllabus content. This can be seen by anyone who has observed the changes in our standardized examinations by the Ministry of Education from Common Entrance to SEA; from O’ and A’Levels to CXC and CAPE. This is not only a Tn’T problem, but exists worldwide. Now this is not to berate the individuals on the numerous panels or committees that spend many diligent hours drafting and re-drafting these pieces of paper. It’s not their fault and to give them their due, I know many of them try their best, but theirs is an impossible task.
A case in point: when I wrote the Common Entrance Examination way back in 1975, it was purely a multiple choice examination with the examinee’s selections to each question shaded A to D on an answer sheet which was electronically marked. There was no written component. Personally, I find no problem with this as there can be no subjectivity creeping in on the part of the marker as with written exams. Also, the exam was basically Maths and English (Verbal Ability, Comprehension and Syntax); there was no Science, etc. This, of course, has changed. However, the breadth of the syllabus now leaves the various subject areas barely touched and confuses teacher and student alike. Ironically, in my day, many of the comprehension pieces contained scientific material, so that as we read and tried to understand the passage you actually gained some scientific knowledge – I dare say more than the SEA students of today.
Another problem is that what is included on the syllabus is what the designers of the syllabus think is important to us. Now strictly speaking that is a total impossibility. For instance, I studied history all the way up to a bachelor’s degree at the University of the West Indies, but only a couple of years ago stumbled upon a book which gave a very short but exciting history of Port-of-Spain (will get the exact name when I locate it again I hope). Now why was this text omitted in all the history syllabi? Or why was I not given Mein Kampf to analyse instead to Great Expectations for my O’Level literature? I was much more interested in the mind of Hitler than Dickens at the time.
Some of my readers may think these observations ridiculous. I mean, afterall no one can structure a curricula to fit every child. And that, sadly, is the point. It cannot be done. Then why attempt to do it?
Yet another pet peeve of mine and one that has changed the course of my education, career and life is the ‘grouping’ of subjects. In the 1970′s at St. Mary’s College, when and where I attended Secondary school, one had to perform very well in the end of year exams before going to form four in the science subjects if one wanted to do science for O’Levels. The reasoning behind this was that lab space and science teachers were both in short supply. Anyway, I loved Physics, but disliked Chemistry (largely due to the Chemistry Teacher – Pot Belly Clark) with the end result being that I scored 94% in my Physics exam, but only a paltry 23% in Chemistry. Now compelled to choose other subjects, I selected the business subjects (Accounts, Commerce, etc.). I don’t even think it was possible to do any science and History (which I adored). I ended up with an Upper Second Class honours in Economics and History, to which end I am now earn my living setting up and troubleshooting computer networks and servers. As the Americans say: go figure…