I would like to join the nation in congratulating the two students who top-scored on the PSE this year by especially recognizing their insightful comments on what I call their PSE experiences. In acknowledging two of the people who helped him to top the 2012 PSE examination, Rhiki Alegria of Hummingbird Primary School, for example, said “My teacher, Ms Chavaria and my evening school teacher, Ms Wade; they really helped me a lot.” What he did not say, however, was which one helped him more. The global literature on supplementary tutoring (evening school), referred to in Japan by Baker and Stevenson as the Shadow Education System, suggests that in countries like Belize where students study for these high stakes examinations such as the PSE, the shadow education system contributes to as much as 32 per cent of their final scores on this examination of those students who have access to them.
In Rhiki’s case, these figures suggests that if his parents could not afford to send him to Ms Wade’s Evening School, he would have scored 122 (or 32 percentage) points less on the exam than he actually did, and in so doing, denying him the coveted accolade of co-toping the 2012 PSE examinations.
There has always been a shadow education system (Evening School) in Belize, but current research by Barrow and Lochan suggests that with the steady flow in the retirement of our senior experienced teachers like Ms Wade and with more of the younger competent teachers seeing this as a source of much needed additional income, this shadow has been growing rapidly over the past decade, keeping pace with the global growth of this phenomenon in countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, where the phenomenon has become endemic.
Supplementary tutoring, or Evening School, refers to schooling that students participate in usually after normal formal school hours and on Saturdays for an average of about six and a half hours per week, that is equivalent to one extra school day per week, and for which they usually pay to the tutor a fee. In Belize this fee ranges from $10 to about $60 per week and the extra-tutoring is usually carried out at facilities other than the student’s school, though in some cases the school plant is actually used as the site to carry out the activity.
The theory commonly used to explain the global growth of the supplementary tutoring phenomenon suggests that all formal education system cast a shadow, and the length of that shadow is a reflection of the weaknesses of the formal education system, with weaker formal education systems casting longer shadows, that is, many more students spend many more hours attending ‘Evening Schools’.
Some of the major weaknesses in formal education systems that contributes to the growth of a shadow education system include an over emphasis on high stakes testing like the PSE, students home language when it is different from the language of instruction, in sufficient places for students in quality schools, an elitist school curriculum, that is, a school curriculum that is based on middle and upper class values and relevance, parents lack of confidence in the formal school system, and corruption and teacher ‘blackmail’, that is, in some education jurisdictions the class teacher deliberately just covers part of the curriculum in the regular day-school, forcing parents to send their child to evening school to ensure that the curriculum is fully covered and that their children have a better chance at doing well on the PSE.
The PSE score that a student receives is, therefore, a manifestation or a reflection of the complex social organization that shapes learning in Belize, as is the case in countries in many regions of the world. These include the ability of the learners, the quality of the teachers, the nature of the curricula, the socio-economic status of parents and their willingness and ability to invest both time and money in their children’s education, and the social environment (the school) in which these factors come together.
In Belize the social environment in which all these factors come together, our primary schools, are substandard for more than half of all the students who attend mostly those multi-grade schools in rural communities, whose underachievement are disproportionately reflected in the PSE scores each year. Because evening school or supplementary tutoring is largely an urban or semi-urban enterprise, students living in these rural communities continue to be most at risk of failure on the PSE, even though the Shadow Education System (Evening School) has grown significantly in cities and towns in Belize over the past decade.
This is suggesting to me that the matter of access to Evening School is fast becoming an education equity issue of national significance, (how else could you explain, for example, that the top ten of 6983 pupils who sat the PSE this year (2012) all came from City or Town Schools), that demands the immediate attention of our education policy makers.
The literature on supplementary tutoring (the Evening School Phenomenon) suggests that there are at least three options available to policy makers in face of this problem. The first is, as a former colleague use to say, “Do Nothing”, since the problem is just a temporary abnormality and the system will work itself out back to normalcy over time. (This, incidentally, is the general position taken by those educators whose education conceptual framework is aligned with the structural functionalist paradigm, that is, those who view schools as bureaucracies where students, teachers and administrators have inherited clearly defined roles).
The second option is to legislate against Evening School making it an illicit activity. This was the approach to policy taken in Korea some years ago and what they found out was that this action of making Evening School illegal just forced the activity to go underground rather than arresting it. The third option is the policy suggested by Mark Bray, one of the foremost experts on the global supplementary tutoring phenomenon, that seem to be working in those countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the Evening School Phenomenon has become endemic.
This second option is for the Ministry of Education to regulate the supplementary tutoring industry to ensure that there is transparency, accountability and greater equity in the informal shadow education sector. This would be much like what the MOE currently does in regulating the pre-school/early childhood development sector.
Though all three policy options are viable, for the Belize context I am partial towards the latter – regulate it! But it is really up to our policy makers who I think should do more than just, by default, embrace the “Do Nothing” policy option.