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Late exam results sign of an urgent problem

After nearly two years of disruption to their studies, Samoan students are contending with an education system that is frustrating their educational progress. 

A story on the front page of the Saturday edition of the Samoa Observer revealed that some 4000 primary school students were left in academic limbo. The results of their examinations, a necessary prerequisite for progressing to secondary school were now more than a month late (“Results delayed for thousands of students”.)

Some three weeks into the school year students and parents are still awaiting the results of their Samoa Primary Education Certification of Achievement (S.P.E.C.A.) exams. Students and parents are being forced to navigate one of the most important milestones of their educational careers without mandatory qualifications.

Against the backdrop of falling rates of progression from primary to secondary education and declines in examination results across the board, the education Ministry is compounding fundamental problems. 

It is not the only standard primary exam that the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture (M.E.S.C.) has made a mess.

In addition to the Year 8 students, the country’s Year 12 and 13  students last December faced an unforeseen delay in sitting the Samoa School Certificate (S.S.C.) and the Samoa School Leaving Certificate (S.S.L.C.).

Despite sitting their exams later than their primary school cohorts those students have already received their results. 

We are worried that the education Ministry is neglecting a pivotal point in a child’s educational career - a point at which many decide whether to continue or cease their education. 

School Principals told the Samoa Observer on Friday this is the second year in a row that the primary school students’ final exam results have been delayed.

The losers from these delays are the parents and students who have been denied access to measures of their competency in basic educational skills and a requirement for their acceptance into secondary school. 

The leader of the Tautua Samoa party, Afualo Luagalau Dr. Salele, said that the delay occurring for the second year in a row reflected the Ministry's lack of planning. 

“If the issue of results being released was late last year, I hope they should come up with a strategic plan to ensure it does not happen again,” he said. 

“We have to consider the frustrations from parents as well because another academic year has begun.”

Afualo’s analysis rings true. 

We should be doing everything to encourage and make it easy for children to progress through the education system at such a critical juncture in their academic life. 

There is already evidence that students are increasingly dropping out of school and choosing not to pursue further education beyond primary school. 

In 2018, 86.5 per cent of students progressed from primary to secondary school; a fall from 93.7 per cent in 2014 a report by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics released last month showed. 

The Ministry did not respond to our questions on Friday about the causes of the delay in the issuing of results and its causes.

But the Ministry's failure to anticipate these problems for last year's exam and to smooth students’ path towards secondary school contradicts their mission. 

Why, for example, has the Ministry not increased the space between primary and secondary leaving exams to allow examiners more time to grade tests?

The two years of delays follow an unprecedented period of disruption to these students’ education. 

A rare confluence of events has interrupted students’ learning over the past two years. These include mandatory participation in the Pacific Games; the measles epidemic; and limits on public gatherings caused by state of emergency restrictions for COVID-19 

That is reflective of students’ increasingly poor performance in their leaving exams in addition to the Ministry's administrative failures. 

The trend of students' declining performance has become painfully obvious in recent years. 

Last year the number of students who qualified for university after their S.S.L.C. exams fell by 2.5 percentage points to reach 55.2 per cent. But when compared to the pass rate in 2017 of 63.7 per cent that drop jumps to 8.5 percentage points. 

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the failure to return students’ exam results on time is a bigger issue than the barriers it imposes on students and parents. It is yet another symptom of an education system lacking resources. 

The lack of teachers in Samoa is one of the nation’s most long-running policy debates to which the nation has been trying to search for long-term solutions. 

These include raising teacher salaries with a corresponding five-year programme to provide teachers with tertiary education. 

Last week Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi even floated the idea of bringing back retired teachers into the classroom or even changing the retirement age for teachers.

But the exam delays are indicative of the fact that while long-term thinking is needed, the failings of our education system have now become urgent. 

We must take action now. Otherwise, an entire generation of students is at risk of contending with a school system preventing them from pursuing further education rather than encouraging them. We cannot set these students up to fail.

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