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Quintero: Education Reform Aims To Reinforce Skills

But opposition grows on Education Department’s decision to cut down on basic requirements in English, Spanish, Math and other basic disciplines


March 28, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

In the wake of mounting opposition to the recently announced changes in the local public school curriculum, Department of Education Undersecretary Ana Quintero insists the changes are aimed at reinforcing basic skills in elementary school students and allowing high school students to explore their talents and vocations.

However, many education experts agree that in order to succeed, the implementation of any education reform requires that it be the result of in-depth studies. Other skeptics point out that the leaving it up to the students to decide whether to take a fuller load of basic courses will allow students to graduate from high school with only minimum effort.

Quintero explained that the last curricular revision–conducted in 1999–required high school students to complete three credits (each credit being equal to one year) of basic skills, which are Spanish, English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. It also called for one credit in Physical Education, another in either Health or Art, and another in an elective class.

With the new reform, high school students must take only two credits of each of the five basic skills, instead of three. They must also take one credit each in Physical Education and Art, half a credit (or one semester) each in Health, Civics, Responsible Parenting, and four and a half credits in elective classes.

Examples of elective classes are Tae kwon do, Creative Dance, Music, and Acting. Students may also choose elective courses that are related to basic skills. For example, students wanting to reinforce their knowledge in Social Studies can take electives in Geography, African Heritage, and U.S. International Relations.

"Although the changes may be well intentioned, the Education Department wants to implement them too quickly. Any curriculum specialist can tell you that they cannot be implemented in one or two years. I can tell you that there is no in-depth research going on right now on behalf of the Education Department," said Jesus Soto, principal of the Joaquin Vazquez Cruz School in Camuy.

The reform is expected to be in place by August, although Quintero has clarified that it will be in constant evolution.

"The idea is not to reduce requisites, but to diversify them. We want to strengthen the elementary school students’ basic skills by helping them understand how the skills they are learning are used on a daily basis, thus making the lessons more interesting," Quintero said. "Students who are university material should take three years of basic skills and courses that relate to the major they want to choose in college. Those planning to join the work force take two years of basic skills and electives to explore their talents."

The proposed changes to the public school curriculum go in the opposite direction of stateside trends, which are increasing the amount of higher-level basic courses required of students.

"In 1998, 29% of students [on the mainland] completed a core curriculum that included four units of English, three units of math, three units of science, three units of social studies, one half unit of computer science, and two units of a foreign language, compared to 2% in 1982," reads CyberEducation 2002–a Nasdaq Stock Market report.

Many education professionals–Soto included–believe that if students are merely advised to take electives related to basic skills, instead of required to take them, they will end up taking other electives.

Even with students taking three years of basic skills, as they are now, College Board scores for local public school students are dropping. For example, in 1995 the average English score was 431 on a scale of 200 to 800 points. In 2000, this score was down to 416.

Critics do not foresee test results improving if a year of basic skills is eliminated. Quintero, however, disclaims that College Board scores have been sliding lately.

"We also want to integrate the curriculum. For example, we can teach math in a science class, and we can teach Spanish in a history class. This way, students in elementary school realize the importance of the topics they study. This integration model has already been tested in some schools, showing excellent results," Quintero added.

Soto agrees with the integration model. "It is used successfully in my school and it is a global trend, but it should not be the norm. Rather, it should be a once or twice weekly activity," he said.

Quintero said that teacher training will be reinforced beginning this semester and that the new electives stemming from basic skills were proposed in part by the teachers themselves.

Soto has doubts about the effectiveness of training programs. He said that in the past, the trainings have consisted in hundreds of teachers being forced to attend meetings in auditoriums, after which, follow-up was never offered.

Quintero added that she hopes problems arising from the lack of teachers prepared in English could be solved by using audiovisual & technological aids and reinforcing teacher training.

However, these ideas have yet to be implemented, Quintero said, and may take time and investment before they become a reality.

Meanwhile, Sagrado Corazon University President Jose Rivera said the Education Department should be given the opportunity to explore changes because basic skills can be developed using diverse strategies.

"We must experiment in order to satisfy students’ needs, because today’s students are very different from those of years past," Rivera said.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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