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Media access to British maths experts revoked

Change of heart: Llewellyn Simmons, the Director of Academics at the Ministry of Education and Workforce Development (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

An invitation to interview Cambridge curriculum assessors on a trip to the island was withdrawn at the eleventh hour yesterday by the Department of Education.

Llewellyn Simmons, the Director of Academics at the education ministry, invited The Royal Gazette to interview the Cambridge representatives, who were invited to Bermuda after poor maths results were revealed last month.

The invitation to interview the experts was withdrawn yesterday by an education department official.

Dr Simmons said the visiting team were “conducting observations and training with our math teachers”.

He was sent a number of questions last month on the poor Cambridge Checkpoint results for Primary 6 and Middle 3 students for the 2016-17 school year.

He said Cambridge representatives would be at CedarBridge Academy yesterday from 8.30am to 4pm and today from 8.30am to 3.30pm.

Dr Simmons said in his e-mail: “If you are interested in having your questions answered, you may interview them during this time.”

A time was set to meet the Cambridge representatives in the school’s training room yesterday afternoon, but Dr Simmons sent another e-mail yesterday morning to ask The Royal Gazette to contact a spokeswoman with the Department of Education to “make your request to interview”.

An e-mail was sent to the spokeswoman to request the interview, but the spokeswoman later sent an e-mail that the interview had been cancelled — no reason was given for the change of heart.

Several questions were sent to the spokeswoman yesterday about the Cambridge Assessment representatives and their work on the island.

The spokeswoman said: “The Department of Education and representatives from Cambridge International are this week conducting training with teachers of core subjects in Bermuda’s public school system.

“Prior to the arrival of the overseas facilitators, a full schedule was mapped out for the week with the training sessions as a priority.”

The 2017 Bermuda public school system report released last month showed that P6 and M3 students failed to meet a Department of Education target set for maths of 3.0 — equivalent to a C grade.

The results of the International General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations sat by senior-level students last year were also published.

The results revealed that only 18 per cent of the 445 students that took the maths examination scored a C grade or better.

Sergio Pitcher, founder of tutoring service Planet Math, said the results of last month’s report were expected.

Mr Pitcher said: “This is not a new problem and will take dedication and hard work from everyone to make a real change.”

He said that student struggles with maths were not specific to Bermuda.

Mr Pitcher explained: “This has been a major issue for many countries, including the United States.”

He said that a number of factors had led to problems in the subject, including the way maths is taught, which he described as “counterproductive”.

Mr Pitcher explained: “We teach students several formulas they ‘need’ to memorise and introduce a litany of abstract symbols, then we strive to find application of what we have taught with meaningless word problems.

“What we should do is get real-world problems that interest the students. Give them an opportunity to try to develop their own strategies for solving the problem first.”

Mr Pitcher said maths instruction would also benefit from “dynamic maths specialists” who only taught the subject.

He added: “If from primary school, maths is made fun and useful, then the attitude that students have will be more positive all the way through.”

Mr Pitcher said Bermuda’s public school system had a “wealth of experienced, successful maths teachers”.

He added: “What can be done to help is utilise these exemplary teachers to assist teachers that aren’t having as much success.

“By doing this, we build up the system and make it better.”

Mr Pitcher said responsibility for the current maths problem “falls on everyone”, including students, teachers and parents.

He added students must be “serious and focused”.

Mr Pitcher explained: “They have to behave properly in class and try to learn as much as possible every day. Additionally, they need to get their homework done and practice.”

Teachers, Mr Pitcher said, must provide “top-notch lessons every day by being enthusiastic, clear and teaching the material in a way so that the students understand”.

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, said last month that the Cambridge personnel would “conduct walk-through observations to gain first-hand data about teaching and learning experiences in our primary, middle and senior schools”.

Mr Rabain said the information would be shared with principals and teachers “and advise on the mathematics teaching strategies to best address any observable deficits”.