EDITORIAL COMMENT: Cala replacement projects a step ahead

THE Continuous Assessment Learning Activities (CALA) introduced a couple of years ago into our schools were brought in to help solve two major challenges: the need for pupils to move away from rote learning to understanding what they were learning, and the need to cope with the limited in person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has become clear after an extensive try-out that CALA did not work as well as was hoped, despite some extensive training of teachers, and did not bring the benefits that were hoped for.

Yet the basic concept was a good one, of moving away from placing a premium on a good memory and piling a child’s future on the outcome of a few hours of examinations.

So the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education has dumped the system and the educational experts have worked out something more effective and better, although a system that will require more resources in many schools.

The change is part of a revamp in school education, cutting back on the core of compulsory subjects, while retaining a scientific and technical emphasis, and allowing a lot more flexibility in the add-on subjects to suit the resources and opportunities available in each location, as well as the interests and talents of the children.

The revamp, while directed by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, where it has to be by law with the Permanent Secretary having the final say on the curriculum, will obviously involve a lot of others from parents to communities to other ministries who will need to upgrade resources, both physical and in terms of expertise.

All ministers must have been given something serious to think about at this week’s Cabinet meeting while being briefed on the changes.

Part of the changes in the upper forms will be to form a far better connection between the school curriculum and the very wide range of higher education and vocational training that most pupils will be moving into when they leave, being both better prepared and with every child having some accomplishments under their belt rather than just a pass or fail grade. That can be both unfair, and in many ways is a potential waste of resources.

While every teacher will need to maintain continuous assessment, if nothing else because they want to see the sort of progress each child is making, this returns to where it has always been under a good teacher, in the classroom and in the school.

What will be part of the formal assessment criteria will now be a practical project, which presumably will measure both the understanding of the child and the application of what the child has been learning in the classroom. In some ways it will obviously require a lot of effort, but in another sense that effort will be focused into something that interests the child and which is familiar to the child through the local community, and where opportunities exist to pick a lot of other brains outside the school.

In fact that is precisely what each person will do for most of their life, learning the background theory as advances are made and then applying it in a workplace to earn a living. Both are needed.

We never stop learning and we never stop applying, and both sets of skills and concepts are needed. And it is important to note that all children will be involved, from the one who gets the highest exam results to the less academically gifted.

It is less a balanced education, which has its detractors, and more a complete education, of learning and applying.

The briefing after the Cabinet meeting made it clear what upgrades of resources are required, especially in many rural schools.

Every school needs an electricity supply. For most urban schools and a swathe of rural schools this will be the grid mains, but we note that this also means very little load shedding so it is actually switched on.

For another swathe of rural schools, solar panels will be needed, now a practical possibility although there are additional costs. Perhaps a basic package could be put together, for the wiring regardless of the source and the panels where needed, so that a wide range of assistance can be given.

Responsible corporates and suitably grateful former pupils have already helped extend the Government budget with boreholes and the like, and a definite minimum energy package seems an obvious extra.

A second resource for all schools will be the basic internet server with connections. Again there are some practical ways others can help, and one major assistance would be if the service providers could work out a low cost or even free connection for broadband, cable where possible and the internet connections as part of their social responsibilities.

At the very least it seems wrong to make a profit off schoolchildren from low income families, especially as spare capacity is now available almost everywhere so special free services would have negligible extra costs to providers.

The Ministry is keen on a modest addition to teaching staffs, bringing in teachers of practical subjects to join the staffrooms. This is already done at a few schools, far too few, so there must be suitable qualifications listed and other subjects can be added.

Cabinet was keen on the idea of linking the practical projects to the community, partly for the obvious reason that resources are likely to be more available and the children will have some sort of background and interest.

But there is also the other direction of knowledge flows, from the children and their resource people to the community, figuring out how to make the community better, even if this is a small advance. The sense of accomplishment for the children will be higher, and it will thus help them as they move into the bigger world to have actually solved something practically.

We should not underestimate what the change from CALA to projects means. The start is the replacement of something that did not work that well with something better for the child, and a way of measuring applications of knowledge more precisely. But it also requires resources, training for teachers and everyone to take it seriously, both in the schools, in the homes and in the communities.

We are sure everyone can rise to the occasion, as they have so many times before. We are, when we apply ourselves, a nation of problem solvers, and this is just a new one on the needed list.

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