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Not enough! CaPRI says it’s time to take education to global level

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, January 22, 2013    

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THE Government was yesterday urged to do more to ensure that Jamaica's children meet international educational standards.

The advice came in a report by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), a think tank that promotes evidence-based policy dialogue within the region.

According to the report, while Jamaica has built a good educational foundation for its youth by ensuring that they are in school until age 16, monitoring their learning through regular tests and investing in schools, they often do not meet international standards of excellence.

Jamaica has never participated in a global assessment of student achievement, a trend within the English-speaking Caribbean, except for Trinidad and Tobago, according to the report.

Among the issues the report listed were: inability of the system to address standards for school plants leading to disparity in allocation of resources, plant quality and learning opportunities; non-mandatory curricula which creates a disconnect between the primary and secondary levels; and the lack of national assessment at the secondary level, with the exception of CSEC which emerges at the end of the cycle.

"The country can and should do more to make sure that the education children receive meets international standards of excellence, prepares students for the needs of a demanding global economy, and ensures that all children, regardless of their household incomes, have access to excellent instruction," the report recommended.

It added that in order to meet these challenges "all Jamaicans, from Government to business and non-profit organisations, to churches, teachers, schools, parents, community members, and students themselves need to do their part".

The report was officially presented last week to Education Minister Ronald Thwaites and launched publicly yesterday at The Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.

Among the recommendations in the report, titled Prisms of Possibility: A Report Card on Education in Jamaica and produced by the Partnership for Educational Revitalisation of the Americas (PREAL) as part of its "education report card" project, were:

* That civil society supports the Government's efforts to enrol older teens in school, including extending the mandatory school age and offering internship and apprenticeship opportunities at Grades 12-13;

* Revise attendance targets to encourage higher participation, as students are currently missing about six weeks of school on average each year;

* Ensure that Jamaica participates in at least one global test of student achievement, such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study or Programme for International Student Assessment to better understand how they compare in the global economy;

* Develop mechanisms, beyond annual tests, for identifying and addressing learning challenges early and often;

* Ensure that teachers are equipped to handle the challenges of the system, by offering focused professional development, and entrenching a mentorship period in the profession with reward opportunities for teachers;

* Train school administrators in strategic and operational management, offering partnerships with corporate Jamaica and civic bodies such as service clubs; and

* Give schools more autonomy in their day-to-day operations, including staffing and student attendance in return for greater responsibility for the results.

The report also asked that the budgeting process reflect the needs of schools, rather than an education level; differentiated instructional methods be introduced into the classrooms for a more inclusive learning atmosphere catering to students with different learning styles, different levels of learning and different gender; continue experimenting with gender-based teaching and learning techniques that address specific needs of boys; and complete the process of phasing out all-age and junior high schools that end at Grade 9.

Lead consultant, socio-economic analyst Dawn Sewell Lawson presented the report card and explained the highlights and process. Guest speaker was Dr Simon Clarke, retired UNESCO Caribbean director.

Senator Christopher Tufton and Dr Damien King, co-executive directors of CaPRI, gave the opening and closing remarks, respectively, while Dr Jeff Puryear, co-director of PREAL, represented his organisation.

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