The Director of Catholic Education in Samoa, Aeau Chris Hazelman, has joined a growing chorus of parents urging the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C) to be more transparent.
Sparked by concerns that the Ministry has not learnt anything from the failure rate of the 2014 Samoa Secondary Leaving Certificate (S.S.L.C) Mathematics Exam, Aeau claims that some 40 questions in the latest Math exam were “Foundation level not Year 13.”
“This is unacceptable,” he told the Samoa Observer. “It is the role of M.E.S.C to ensure that all students are treated fairly and equal. The last two years have shown that they have not completed this task with the voice of the few dominating the discussions on Math.”
Aeau’s comments come as M.E.S.C is set to release the results from last year’s exam. It was not possible to get a comment from M.E.S.C yesterday.
But Aeau, who is also the Pro Chancellor of the National University of Samoa, is worried.
“My greatest fear, if my prediction should come true is that there will be a high failure rate in math and the fact is that students will not want to take the subject,” he said. “In 1996 when Gagana Samoa was introduced as a P.S.S.C subject, many of our country’s students took it. Then when the results came with high failure rates and then repeated in 1997 and again in 1998, by 1999 fewer students wanted to sit the subject because of the fear of failure.
“Students are not stupid, they will not want to sit a subject where their chances of passing is low. This then makes a mockery of what our Government is trying to push amongst our students; Science and Math.
“In moving forward, M.E.S.C needs to be more transparent i.e. selection of examiner and moderator, thorough check of exam drafts to see all criterias are met and stated in the curriculum, and not wait to the last minute (meeting in September for the exam format) should not be accepted.”
According to Aeau, the problems from the 2014 Math paper was the fact that it was too difficult.
“Rev. Vavatau and others have already shared their views on this issue where there were many questions in the paper that were really Form 7 or Foundation Year Questions,” he said.
“The content of each question is stated in the curriculum however the actual question and level of difficulty found in exam were of Foundation level not Year 13.”
In the 2015 Math Exam, Aeau said the problem arose again.
“This time the questions are not only Foundation level questions but worse they are not in the Year 13 Curriculum.
“Rev. Vavatau made an attempt to clarify this point last year unfortunately the C.E.O. at the time brushed it aside or made no comment at all.
“After close analysis from teachers in the Catholic and Private systems I can say that there are close to 40 questions that should not have been in the exam. This is unacceptable.” A teacher by profession, Aeau also identified another problem in the exam format.
“In September 2015 after the Commonwealth Games, M.E.SC hosted meetings for Year 12 and 13 on the Exam format,” he explained.
“They clearly showed that within each subject curriculum there are different strands of which the weighting/marks awarded will be based. For example Strand 1 would be straightforward questions worth 1 mark. They also made it very clear that there will be no multiple-choice questions.
“The Year 13 S.S.L.C Math paper had 30 multiple choice questions worth 1 mark each. Make it worse there were questions that needed more of the students' attention and working which naturally means that the question is worth more than 1 mark. Again this is unacceptable.”
So what happened?
“In my view M.E.S.C tried to implement all their new changes i.e. move from scale mark to raw mark, changes to internal assessment packages, new exam format, etc that come mid-2015, they were caught in trying to find suitable chief examiner and moderator hence the loopholes,” Aeau said.
“In the past, once the examiner signed their contract a blueprint of the paper should have been with M.E.S.C. in late March/April, second draft by mid-year and ready for printing come late September. There were meetings held for examiners and teachers in early/mid 2015 of which the Examiner for Math was not present, therefore the problems with the paper.
Disappointed about the way the issue has been handled, Aeau said he is only speaking out because of his heart for Samoa.
“First of all let me make this very clear, this is not Rev. Vavatau and A'eau vs M.E.S.C. A'eau and Rev. Vavatau are a part of M.E.S.C we are one body!
“When Rev. Vavatau made his comments it is his concern that the issues at hand are not new and the fact that it is the second consecutive year in the same subject and the same people, this is unacceptable.
“As a teacher I set my assessment on what I have covered in class. Which means that I have to cover what is stated and demanded.
“I have in my possession the prescribed textbook that was developed, printed and delivered by the Ministry. Hence when I set my exam if there are any complaints from students and parents on the questions in the paper as the teacher I am able to use the textbook to show the origins of the questions.
“If there are complaints about the paper, there should be one, two, three, at the most. Unfortunately with the Year 13 Math Exam, 30-40 questions, are not stated in the curriculum neither are they found in the M.E.S.C textbook.
“In the Curriculum there is a list of recommended textbooks that teachers can use. One of those texts is “Senior Mathematics” by Sealy & Agnew, however it is not sold in Samoa. Hence only teachers who have access to this text would have seen the types of questions that were found in the 2015 Math Exam.
“The reality for all schools in Samoa is that many teachers only have access to the M.E.S.C Textbook.”
According to Aeau, when the complaints were made about the 2014 Exam, the Minister of Education, Sports and Culture, Magele Mauiliu Magele, said that teachers did not cover the topics stated in the curriculum.
“He was absolutely correct,” Aeau said. “Too often in teaching, teachers teach to their strengths and spend more time on their preferred topics.
“Sometimes teachers have been found guilty of not teaching anything in the curriculum and doing their own program.
“However after 2014 Exam, all principals and teachers worked hard to ensure that this problem does not arise again.
“Now what we have are teachers covering the curriculum as challenged by the Honorable Minister yet the exam questions were different.
“Even more disappointing is how the former C.E.O answered complaints by Rev. Vavatau and worse those originally made by the student who wrote to the Samoa Observer.
“Based on the actual exam paper, I predict that there will be a repeat of last year’s results. However if for some reason there is a 360˚ change to the results where all students pass, then it makes a mockery of the whole assessment process.
“The mark given on the paper should be a reflection of what was asked in it. So now we have students in a predicament that they passed math, but really you didn’t…..does that make sense? And does that look good coming from M.E.S.C?”
Aeau also recalled that when former C.E.O, Matafeo Falanaipupu Aiafi, was first appointed, he had called a meeting of the Assessment Unit with all teachers from the Mission and Private sectors.
“At this meeting we shared our opinions and views about the issues regarding exams and one of the issues that came up was the selection of the Chief Examiner and Moderator,” Aeau said. “We all felt that there should be discussions on the selection criteria before selection is made. To this day nothing has been done, hence we are seeing exam papers like those of the last two years come to light.”
Lastly, Aeau said he strongly supports the views expressed by Rev. Vavatau in relation to the exam.
“When a person like Rev. Vavatau speaks, he is not just speaking for himself or the E.F.K.S. He is speaking to raise the concerns for the benefit of all of Samoa’s students regardless if they are at Samoa College, Itu o Tane, Papauta, St. Joseph’s or Robert Louis.
“As I said before I am a part of M.E.S.C and the reason why I am sharing my concerns is not for students in Catholic schools it is for the benefit of all students.
“The former C.E.O made reference to Rev. Vavatau being a tutor in his reply.
“In a twisted way Matafeo was right. The fact that Math has now moved away from the curriculum, asking questions that only those who have access to other recommended texts and needing greater mathematical expertise, will only increase the demand for private tutorials.
“Rev. Vavatau and others are supplying that demand which is of no fault of theirs. It is the situation that was created by M.E.S.C in allowing these things to occur. As a parent I too will seek tutorials for my child, but how many students can afford this?”