Although there exists a wealth of research regarding the issues of competence and the assessment of students' performance in the courses they take, the area of our students failing at regional universities, particularly at the University of the South Pacific (USP) has received very little attention from the authorities. Sadly, we have not been proactive in taking up 'real' actions to remedy the issues, despite the many suggestions made by students for responsible authorities to investigate the situation at the USP Laucala campus!
The recent statistics released by the Ministry of Education on failing students is alarming; it shows that a good number of our students are finding the 100 and 200 level undergraduate courses offered at USP, in whichever discipline formidable.
Mind you readers, in the context of our country, the 'best achievers' leave our shores to pursue university related studies elsewhere in the region, including USP. These are the students whom we regard as the 'cream' of our education system and nation. The current situation of 'failing students' should "ring a bell" to us, so that the problems our students are facing can be researched and actions taken to re-dress the situation. Our failure to seek possible reasons why our students are failing their courses will be detrimental to our future endeavours, particularly as we move forward in strengthening tertiary education and human resource needs in our country.
While I accept the stringent policy measures MEHRD has enforced, which is being used purposefully to "recruit" and "fire" students (if they fail) based on their academic performances, as well as the upcoming "new tertiary education policy" that the Minister of Education has recently mentioned, I would like to suggest that MEHRD should consider undertaking a study immediately to determine the factors that are contributing to students failing at the USP.
A similar study was undertaken during the late 1980s, to investigate why there was a generally high failing rate of our students that were enrolled in the USP foundation science program. As a result of this study, considerable improvement has been made both in terms of preparing students for the science programs and the kind of support USP should provide to such students. Thus, the failure rate of our students who were doing foundation science in those years were reduced, until the government decided to offer the foundation science program in-country.
For the sake of readers, the study found amongst other things; two key factors that contributed to students failure in the foundation science program. These were lack of independent learning competencies/and strategies (often described as meta-cognitive skills associated with tertiary study) and social factors.
It would be of some assistance to our future students and the country as a whole, if the Government mandates a study to explore the extent to which the factors I mentioned above are contributing to students failing their courses. Also of importance is to explore the extent to which the teaching approaches used by USP lecturers/tutors have any impact on Solomon Islands students' learning (including their performance and achievement). The questions, I am grappling with are; do our students have a certain preference for teaching and learning styles at the tertiary level? And are these being employed at USP? If they are not, how do our students respond to the challenges? Or what impact do these have on their learning? More importantly, what can our educators back in the Solomon Islands do to prepare our students for tertiary study?
Finally, suggestions should be made to the USP authority to offer student support services relevant to their tertiary learning needs. For example, the USP may provide services in terms of literacies and competencies which will contribute to students becoming self-directed learners and thus, meet the requirements of tertiary study. Pardon me, if USP has such services up-and-running. Nevertheless, it would be important to find out and to recommend-ways in which our students can seek help to develop their skills in writing assignments, and other competencies at every level and from all disciplines. All Solomon Islands students (and I guess this applies to other pacific island students attending USP and other institutions abroad) can understand and speak English, but surely not everyone is competent in writing essays, reports or in other academic undertaking. I should like to think that all students need such support on those areas, if we have not prepared them well enough during the secondary school years.
Why are our students failing their courses at USP?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Kalatea Soleoniru and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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