Rajendra Sewpersadsing

There are urgent calls from different stakeholders including trade unions and political parties, requesting to review the entire Extended Programme (EP) designed for pupils who could not attain the required level at the Primary School Achievement Certificate (PSAC) to be admitted in the mainstream for secondary education. Those stakeholders feel that EP students are being taken as guinea pigs (cobayes) by the Ministry of Education in its EP project.

I have similar feelings because, according to me, the Ministry of Education is implementing the EP project by trial and error. I will list down some changes brought to the EP project to prove that it is being implemented by trial and error.

At the time of conception, it was proposed that EP classes would have a reduced class size for facilitation of learning (Inspiring Every Child, MOE, Aug 2016). But at the time of admission (January 2018) EP classes were found to have up to 25 students.

EP students will follow the same curriculum as those in the regular 3-year lower secondary cycle (Inspiring Every Child, MOE, Aug 2016). So, initially no special textbooks were prescribed for the EP students. However, at the last moment, panels were set by the MIE to write special textbooks for the EP students taking into account their big learning difficulties.

The EP was implemented in January 2018. But will the EP students sit for the same NCE exams as the mainstream students at the end of the fourth year? There was much doubt at start. It was only after one year of its implementation that the Ministry of Education confirmed that EP students would sit for the same NCE exams.

An Educator, mainly among the ex-PVE Educators, was chosen to act as Facilitator for each class of extended stream. That Facilitator has only EIGHT (out of 45) teaching periods per week on the timetable. In addition, he/she is given other responsibilities such as, (The 4-year Extended Programme Booklet, MOE, 2017)
leadership and supervision,
coaching and mentoring
assisting the students to acquire life and scholastic skills and a sense of belonging.

Now, the Ministry of Education is coming up with new allocation for Facilitators:

Grade 7 Facilitator – Total of 15 teaching periods
Grade 8 Facilitator – Total of 17 teaching periods
Grade 9 and 9+ Facilitator – Total of 13 teaching periods

In January 2018, at implementation of the EP, the Grade 7 (Extended) was given 6 periods of English, 6 periods of French and 6 periods of Maths. The same numbers of periods were allotted to them, when they moved to Grade 8 (Extended) in January 2019. Now, for the next cohort of Grade 7 and 8 (Extended), the Ministry of Education is proposing 8 periods for English, 8 periods for French and 10 periods for Maths to palliate the acute problem of literacy and numeracy, as if the problem has just been identified.

In my article “EP students, failures in the waiting” published in Le Mauricien (Forum – 19 Jan. edition), I explained the different options being offered for the award of the NCE. For ease of reference, I am reproducing the options hereunder.

The EP students will have to take English, French and Mathematics, then choose any THREE subjects from List A and any TWO subjects from List B.

List A – CORE SUBJECTS
List B – NON-CORE SUBJECTS
Science (Chemistry, Physics and Biology)
Performing Arts
Information and Communication Technology
Physical Education
Technology Studies
Life Skills and Values
Business and Entrepreneurship Education

Social and Modern Studies

Art and Design

Kreol Morisien or Asian Language

Have the EP students been given the option form for them to make their choice of subjects (core and non-core)? YES. And, it was only a few days ago when they are about to reach the final year. The options offered are shown in the table below where the EP students have to choose one subject from each of the 4 options.
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Option 4
Science
Technology Studies
Information & Com. Tech (ICT)
Physical Education (PE)
Business & Entrepreneurship Education (BEE)
Art and Design
Social and Modern Studies (SMS)
Performing Art

Thus, the EP students will all go for six core subjects and two non-core subjects as I projected in my previous article. Now, two points need to be highlighted:

Life Skills and Values, a non-core subject which was optional, is now compulsory for EP students.
EP students can choose either Tech. Studies or Art & Design (Option 2), but not BOTH. I feel the EP students should have been given the opportunity to choose both subjects as they do better in technical and vocational subjects compared to academic subjects.

The different changes brought during the implementation of the EP project appear to be positive; but they confirm that the EP has been experimented on the students. Implementation has been done by trial and error. The EP students have been taken as guinea pigs (cobayes) by the Ministry of Education, putting at stake the future of some 3000 EP students.

Before concluding, I wish to alert the Ministry about another problem with the EP students. In January 2018, some 3051 students (boys and girls) were admitted in Grade 7 Extended. In 2020, those students are in Grade 9 Extended and enrolment shows only 2746 EP students. There has been a dropout of 10%. In one zone, the dropout is even more alarming (21.84%). Those EP students are below the age of 16 and they cannot be outside the education system. By law, education is compulsory up to the age of 16. With the Prevocational (PV) Stream, there was a good practice of monitoring attendance of PV students on a monthly basis along with a system put in place to track PV students. That had greatly helped in reducing the dropout rate.

To conclude I share an anecdote. My Late father (who never attended school) once told me, “A bottle of one-litre capacity can contain NOT more than one litre of water. Additional water poured in, will overflow.” It is a natural fact that the EP students have low retention, poor memory and big attention deficit. All students cannot be equally bright and intelligent academically. All sorts of people are needed to make a world. There is now, what is called Multiple Intelligence. The EP students are good otherwise; they excel in non-academic subjects. Why forcing them in the same track as mainstream students?

After the NCE exams, the EP students will still be below 16 years of age. They should be retained in an educational institution. So, I suggest that the Ministry of Education start thinking seriously about a viable project worthwhile for those EP students, once they have failed the NCE exams and not to come with a last-hour project with lots of flaws as the Extended Programme.