The PEP scholarship stepSunday, August 29, 2021
Two weeks ago the Sunday Observer published information about scholarship winners coming out of the grade six Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examination for 2021. These are students who have excelled in the traumatic circumstances of novel coronavirus in a largely unvaccinated society. They deserve special congratulations for their academic brilliance and tenacity.
Experts in academic testing will have their possibly divergent views on PEP and will be able to draw sage comparisons across the PEP, Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and the historically unpopular Common Entrance Examination. Does PEP provide the best measure of student achievement? Is it a measure not of achievement but of scholastic aptitude? Is PEP more difficult than GSAT, and does this matter? And what is the significance of the idea that PEP is a placement procedure and not a test when everyone sees and knows that it is a test?
These are all questions for our experts and we hope that they will address them, or continue to address them, in language that avoids the challenging technical jargon sometimes associated with examination assessments and procedures.
The publication of the PEP scholarship results does, however, allow us to make some preliminary observations. The reports on top performers provide an idea of what is happening — or may happen — in our schools. To begin with, PEP students from urban schools seem to be outperforming their rural counterparts as a general matter. This observation follows from reference to five categories of scholarships open to students from all schools or all primary schools, namely:
• The Guardian Group Foundation Scholarship for Top Performing Girl and Boy (two students);
•The Marcus Garvey Scholarship for the Top Boy from a Primary, All-Age or Primary and Junior High (one student);
• The JAG Smith Scholarship for Top Girl from a Primary, All-Age or Primary and Junior High (one student);
• The George William Gordon Scholarship for Second Place Girl from a Primary, All-Age or Primary and Junior High (one student); and
•The Government Scholarship for Boys and Girls (28 students).
In all, 33 students fall in these discrete categories. There is probable bias in this group of 33 because primary students may be slightly over-represented as against preparatory colleagues, but we may say at least that the listing reflects the top 16 primary and top 17 preparatory students for the country in PEP.
Of the 33, the girl and boy at the very pinnacle each attended preparatory schools — Creative Kids Learning Academy and Hosanna Kindergarten and Preparatory, respectively; 14 Government scholars are from primary schools, while the same number went to preparatory schools.
From among the primary schools, three top candidates — Government scholars — emerged from Kensington Primary, while two each attended Pembroke Hall and St Richard's Primary. Two students from Jessie Ripoll Primary also had top results, with one taking the George William Gordon Scholarship and the other a Government scholarship.
From among the preparatory schools, Hosanna Kindergarten and Prep had, in addition to the top boy overall, two Government scholars. Sts Peter and Paul as well as Mona Prep each had two Government scholars in the group.
On closer examination of the urban/rural spread among the top 33, it emerges that 25 are from Kingston, St Andrew, or St Catherine; three from Montego Bay; and the remaining five are from St Ann (3 students), Clarendon (1) and Trelawny (1). Because this breakdown is confined to a limited number of top-performing students, and for one year only, we may offer no more than tentative propositions.
Also, bearing in mind the prevalence of “extra lessons”, together with the fact that some students operate well irrespective of their surrounding circumstances, we should be careful not to overgeneralise. And again, the performance of the top tier does not necessarily reflect the level of academic activity in place within a school. There may be no Government scholarships in a given year, but the vast majority of students perform creditably. In some schools the rising tide lifts all boats without producing Government scholars.
But even with these caveats in mind, we may note some broad points. One is that schools with access to good facilities are presenting the strongest candidates. The digital divide is real, even the best teachers are frustrated where infrastructure is unreliable, and there is evidence that urban infrastructure is somewhat better than facilities in some rural parishes. Perhaps the gap between some schools and others has always been prevalent, but the sad prospect is that it may be widening.
Second, some PEP schools appear to have excelled notwithstanding Jamaica's obvious and perennial educational challenges. It is, for instance, a pronounced achievement for Hosanna Kindergarten and Preparatory School to have the top boy and two Government scholars in one year; three top awards out of 33 is a sign of very high standards. Similarly, Kensington Primary with three Government scholars is flourishing as a high-performance centre for young scholars, while St Richard's keeps rolling on as a leading primary school from the 1960s days of Sister Cabrini and Miss Cunningham through several generations to the present.
Third, it is fair to observe that some schools associated with the Roman Catholic Church have maintained notable standards of excellence. Together with St Richard's, Jessie Ripoll, Sts Peter and Paul, St Aloysius, Holy Childhood Preparatory, St Catherine Primary, Stella Maris and Alvernia Preparatory produced 11 of the 33 top performers in the country (33 1/3 per cent).
Another set of observations concerns the destination schools for the top PEP candidates. With respect to rural schools, students have tended to select reputable institutions in their parish. Thus, Government scholars from Steer Town Primary and Discovery Bay Preparatory in St Ann will be attending York Castle and Westwood High, respectively, while the JAG Smith top girl from Ocho Rios Primary will proceed to the St Hilda's Diocesan High in the same parish.
The Government scholar from Free Town Primary in Clarendon will attend Glenmuir, but the scholar from Freeman's Hall Primary in Trelawny will cross parish borders on the way to Knox College. The top three students from Hosanna Kindergarten and Preparatory will remain in the second city, attending Herbert Morrison High (two) and Mount Alvernia (one).
Finally, the Kingston Metropolitan Area produces a most striking placement result — 25 of the 33 top students come from this area. Of these, five wish to attend various secondary schools: Ardenne High (two), Wolmer's Girls (two) and Immaculate Conception (one). And then all of the other 20 students have opted for Campion College. In other words, 80 per cent of the top students fromKingston, St, Andrew and St Catherine have selected Campion for their secondary studies. The market has spoken.
— Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie is professor of international law at The University of the West Indies, Mona.
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