The Daily Herald writes that math results at primary schools in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba are improving, but the results for language and reading are lacking. Statia and Saba pupils have an average backlog of more than two years compared to their peers in the Netherlands. Secondary education on St. Eustatius is scoring insufficient.
These are some of the conclusions of the third report of the Dutch Inspectorate of Education that Dutch State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science Sander Dekker sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament last Friday, along with a cabinet’s reaction. The Inspectorate of Education analysed education on all levels in the Caribbean Netherlands and looked back at the developments since October 10, 2010, when Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became Dutch public entities. Progress has been made to improve the basic quality of education on the islands, but there are still many shortcomings and areas of concern.
The Inspection concluded that much work needs to be done, both in the primary education and secondary education, especially in the areas of student care and quality care. The quality of teaching has considerately improved since 2012: there are fewer unqualified teachers and the assistance of school coaches has had a positive influence. The Inspection was positive about the results for math and arithmetic at the primary schools, but the results for language and reading are lagging behind. The backlogs of Dutch technical reading are decreasing, but are still “at least” two to three years behind, depending on the school. Schools even decided to cease the Dutch technical reading tests because the results were very bad. “This is illustrative for the deterioration of the Dutch level in the period before October 10, 2010. It also indicates the extent of the problems of the connection of primary to secondary education.” The Inspection said it lacked trustworthy data on English and Papiamentu reading.
The backlog in arithmetic has decreased but there are large differences between the different schools and islands. In some schools, the general backlog in group 8 is more than two years, while other schools have reached the level of the Netherlands. “This is a positive development.” According to the Inspection, it is “clear” that the primary schools on St. Eustatius and Saba are making less progress than the schools on Bonaire. Pupils on Bonaire are lagging behind about one year upon completion of primary education, while this is more than two years on St. Eustatius and Saba.
Secondary education in St. Eustatius, the Gwendoline van Putten School, is doing worse in all aspects compared to the other two islands. “The quality of education is worse, as are the school exam results and the percentage of pupils that incur a backlog during their school time.” According to the Inspection, the process to improve education has stagnated. “No progress has been made. This is mostly caused because school management and board don’t give efficient direction to the improvement process.”
Saba is doing much better where it comes to secondary education. The exam results have been good in the past years: 89 per cent passed in 2012 and 100 per cent in 2013. “These are considered very good exam results,” stated the Inspection which pointed out that Saba had English language exams based on the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) system.
The Inspection expressed serious concerns about the quality of student care and the large learning backlog in the Caribbean Netherlands. A broad vision, or master plan, would help to reduce the large learning backlogs of the many pupils/students which have evolved through problems at home and shortcomings in the educational system.
The Inspection asked specific attention for the special group of pupils/students with severe learning and development disabilities. This group of children/youngsters with several physical disabilities, with a very low IQ, severe behavioural and/or psychiatric problems, and children with autism, is relatively large in the Caribbean Netherlands. They are unable to reach the average learning results needs of special care and it doesn’t fit in the regular school system. There are no special schools for these children in the Caribbean Netherlands, with the exception of an improvised school on Bonaire. The Inspection suggested establishing one or more separate classes for this group on St. Eustatius as a “serious option.” According to the Inspection, the group of pupils on St. Eustatius is large enough to benefit from special education in a separate setting. An additional benefit would be that the scarce specific expertise in the area in the Windward Islands would be concentrated. The group is not large enough on Saba to warrant separate classes for this group.
State Secretary Dekker stated in his June 20, 2014, letter to the Dutch Parliament that he has requested the schools and their boards on St. Eustatius to concentrate the scarce expertise on the island so children/youngsters with learning and development disabilities can get the necessary assistance. State secretary Dekker shared these concerns of the Inspection where it comes to special care pupils in the Caribbean Netherlands. He stated that especially this group benefitted from an adequate support. “The fact that there is no special education on the islands due to their small size demands an additional joint effort of all involved to find solutions that fit in the specific situation and scale of the islands,” he stated. The state secretary also informed Parliament that for St. Eustatius and Saba he has been looking for ways to attract additional expertise in the area of student care and to ensure that this care is available in the long term. Dekker said he is doing this together with the expertise centres on the islands.
Dekker further stated that he has reminded the school boards in the Caribbean Netherlands about their responsibility to develop an island-wide vision and approach for student care. Cooperation is essential in this area. The state secretary promised additional (financial) support if the schools lived up to this. The Inspection concluded that “considerable steps” would have to be taken to achieve the basic quality in education by 2016. Schools will be able to achieve this in many areas, but the Inspection called it “unrealistic” to expect that all schools by 2016 would function at the basic quality level of the Netherlands. “It is very probable that the learning results in primary and secondary education will still be at a considerably lower level in 2016 than is expected of schools in the Netherlands,” the Inspection stated in the 51- page report.