Ministry of Education nonsensical policy on worksheets
I wonder if the Ministry of Education has hired a health officer to seek advice when making decisions that affect the public, especially given our current situation with the Covid-19 pandemic that has changed the way we live and threaten our health and our well-being daily. And when we thought we could return to a sense of normality in the near future Covid-19 is proving to be a much larger nemesis therefore, taking all the necessary measures to protect the population should be the top priority of state institutions.
The Ministry of Education has made worksheets available to students in the highly commendable school system. However, this very ministry has forgotten its responsibility to teachers and students to protect their health. In high schools, students in grades 7, 8 and 9 have been receiving online classes through various platforms like WhatsApp, Google classroom and Zoom. Although online teaching may be new to Guyana, in many countries, entire degree programs are conducted in this way. Online teaching also includes administering and marking assessments.
As a secondary school teacher who teaches in the lower forms, I have been told by school administrators that teachers are now required to pick up and mark finished worksheets and assign students grades based on these. This new directive is completely nonsensical for several reasons.
The first issue is that the answers for each exercise can be found on the worksheets so whether rating students based on ‘tests’ where the questions and answers are provided on the same paper would reflect students’ true abilities ? Is this a new form of assessment?
Secondly, these worksheets do not consider the different situations of schools across the country. For example, Grade 7 students started classes at the end of October 2020, instead of the first week in September, they did not get full-term work and did not cover all the required subjects. The topics covered in the worksheets follow a ‘normal’ academic year. In my area, a foreign language, if I am learning to use these worksheets then I would have been forced to omit many topics that students should have covered in order to understand some concepts. For example, a normal progression would be to teach the present time before a past time and if no fault of their own students was changed during the Christmas season, should the teacher just follow the instructions from the ministry and teaching as if students were receiving lessons since the first week of September? And don’t forget students in other grades who didn’t receive formal teaching between March and July 2020.
Also, do standardized worksheets address the specific needs of all students nationwide? And is this teaching method the only option for teachers? For a foreign language field, I don’t think students are learning and interested in learning if they have to write pages of notes and complete exercises where answers are already provided. How are they supposed to use critical thinking? I think it is better for students to listen, understand, speak and apply themselves rather than “speeding through topics” and writing bundles of notes they don’t understand. I think learning should be fun and interesting; for my classes I use music, educational videos and cartoons that cover the specific lesson; audio files, cultural exposure through videos and images, provide content and exercises for students to apply themselves and so on.
Then we come to the very important issue of forcing teachers to take unnecessary risks that could be detrimental to their health given how contagious Covid-19 is. Why should they be forced to play Russian roulette with their health by handling hundreds of worksheets touched by more than a thousand people in order to mark exercises where students were given the answers beforehand? Wouldn’t it be better to give every child 100% if you are going to provide the questions and answers at the same time? Also, many people live with elderly parents and other relatives. Isn’t it selfish to unnecessarily endanger the health of the elderly?
I feel that these worksheets could be used as a supplementary resource especially in schools where students are already receiving lessons from a teacher. Also, by being restricted to using worksheets as the primary teaching material, teachers are forced to change the way they teach and lessons are standardized.
On the issue of assessments, these can also be done online. Many online platforms used by teachers include features that allow the setting, marking and presentation of tests and assignments. These online assessments would provide better feedback on student performance than marking exercises with answers already provided to students.
The Ministry of Education needs to prioritize the health and welfare of students and teachers above all else and let teachers teach. Perhaps, free Wi-Fi and devices can be provided for disadvantaged students to use in schools, community centers and other public places in villages across the country or schools can have double sessions and use social distance and recommended hygienic practices for the lower forms.
Secondary School Teacher (Name provided)