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Vacation Revision Programme can boost learning… but only if students attend

by Lara Pickford-Gordon

The St David’s RC, Caroni  and Bethlehem Boys’ RC, Port of Spain are among the 22 Catholic RC primary schools out of 80 schools in the Ministry of Education’s Vacation Revision Programme (VRP). The VRP began Monday, July 10 and runs until August 11. RC principals are happy with the programme, but educators point to the need for full attendance by pupils.

The VRP targets children entering Standards Four and Five in September, the new academic year 2023-24. A total of 3,381 of an estimated 3500 students have registered for classes in Mathematics, English Language Arts and English Language Arts Writing, a July 10 release from the Ministry stated. Weekly sessions in Dance, Drama and Music will be conducted.

VRP provides additional academic and psychosocial support to students and parents who need it the most. Lunch and breakfast are provided for participants in VRP.

At St David’s RC The Catholic News was told: “They try to have probably about 15 children per class. At our school we have one class per level but as we have 43 students who registered they gave us three tutors, so class size is small, so children get more attention.”  The classes are Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The school’s support system has been boosted for the vacation programme with an additional guidance officer and social worker.

“All of these people are here to help cater for the different needs, because you are developing a child holistically. And if I am teaching you academics but you have social issues that are so great you cannot focus on your academic, regardless of your natural ability you are still going to underperform,” a school official said.

She illustrated that the mother stressed about finances will be focused on paying bills and feeding her children. “We need to assist the parents so the social workers … are important,” she said.

Parental involvement was named as an important input in the child’s education.

Attendance at school meetings is poor. “We have to call everyone every time we have something and there’s no guarantee a great percentage will show up,” the official stated. For some parents, time off to attend meetings could be loss of a day’s wages.

The official would like to see remedial programmes become part of the existing education system. “A lot of things I know we need in school on a regular basis they implemented it for the programme.”

The children are enjoying their classes and show understanding of what is happening. When asked what they liked about their classes, they reportedly said: “ ‘Everything…miss is kind, miss does not nag, shout to you’… they’re getting something different and I think how things are done too is different, it gets them focused and drawing their attention to a new thing, a new way.”

At Bethlehem Boys’ RC 50 students are enrolled in the vacation programme but there are students not getting the gains they need due to absenteeism. An average of 70-75 per cent attendance was observed.

“They need to come every day because every day we are trying to do something hands on, something to impact. That in itself is what is going to get them to improve,” an educator said. The school would like to see remedial education training also offered to teachers from Infants to Standard Two.

“It is a very good initiative, excellent…it is smaller numbers they insist upon so to spot some students who are bluffing or desirous of that one-on-one help, you have the time to give it,” The Catholic News was informed. Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) and Values, Character, and Citizenship Education (VCCE) are to be incorporated.

“In this particular programme the MoE is providing the resources in the form of worksheets and things like that for your students”, they said. The school has been given two social workers and a guidance officer for the VRP. The social workers are to conduct parenting in education sessions.

Bethlehem Boys’ RC also got a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) to “work alongside the teacher, dealing with individual students or groups of the weaker students.” This was called an “excellent idea”.  The children referred to the LSA to get further assistance then return to the classes.

Even as gains in students’ performance are anticipated, the school looks forward to all the human resources in the VRP plan—a tutor for VCCE and VAPA being provided. They are to lead activities scheduled on the timetable and a list of activities under these areas are sent to the school to execute. In their absence, teachers are filling the gap.

CEBM and MoE

Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo said, “I think the programme is in keeping with international good practice in which the students are given more time; there is a priority focus on foundation subjects and where they are given a lot of psychosocial support.”

Mangroo suggested that further enquiry was needed to find out why some students are not attending. She surmised it could be cost of transport to attend every day.

“It is unfortunate in the schools where children need it most and I think those are areas that are now being referred to as learning poverty is great, those are the schools in which we are having issues with attendance”, Mangroo said.

Psychosocial support is during the school term but, “it is the degree to which it is available that is not satisfactory.” Principals refer special needs pupils to the MoE Student Support Services Division however, visits by personnel are not frequent enough. Mangroo said: “They can’t devote as much attention that is needed to the children for them to really progress”.

Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly, responding to how the VRP is going said the classes are being well attended. In a text response to questions sent, she stated, “Some students from outside the 80 schools have shown interest in attending. Based on the report for this year we will know if an expansion should be considered.”

The Ministry has an education caravan Turn Up, Don’t Give Up visiting schools to encourage participants in the VRP. Personalities and influencers are enlisted to share their journey and motivate the students.

Throughout the 2022-23 academic year the MoE had an After-School Tuition Programme at primary schools. According to the MoE’s release, “continuity is now offered by the VRP Primary, providing ample opportunities for our students to be positively engaged, and for the mitigation of learning loss, which is still affecting our students, some disproportionately, based on their Covid-19 experience.”

Over 90 per cent of the tutors selected for the VRP Primary were part of a cohort of over 650 teachers trained in remedial Reading, Writing, and Mathematics by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) during this Academic Year 2022-23.