'Five in four': Full STEAM ahead

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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Generations of Jamaicans have been held at economic siege as a consequence of our wholesale engagement in an exotic education system and philosophy. I speak of a post-colonial system of education designed to stratify rather than empower. Most Jamaicans would agree that increasing access to the economy and the correlated expansion of equity are among the primary aims of any education system worth its salt. On the contrary, the National Educational Inspectorate Report of September 2015 tells us that affording Jamaicans' increasing access to the economy and expanding social equality is nothing near what the system is delivering. In fact, of the 973 public primary and secondary schools surveyed, 52 per cent were deemed unsatisfactory in relation to student success.

Through the aegis of the Economic Growth Council we are now embarking on an ambitious growth target with the catchy phrase “five in four”. Even the convener of the council thinks this will be a challenge; just how challenging is part of what I would like to share with him.

Among the needs identified by the Economic Growth Council is that of the education system needing to deploy 3,000 software engineers into the workforce by 2019. How will this happen when over 85 per cent of the 11th grade cohort does not take any of the main science subjects? There are approximately 50,000 new Jamaicans born in this country each year. We are told that this number is significantly declining as Jamaica's highly effective “two is better that too many” campaign takes effect. How will we get these 3.000 engineers when only about 7,000 or so Jamaicans gain Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects each year and, of these, 85 per cent do not sit a single science subject?

Perhaps if every single fifth form science student leaving school were to go into software engineering this need could be fulfilled. This assumes, of course, that all these students did physics, advanced mathematics, and some version of computer science in their CSEC menu and attained the relevant grade I-III.

Clearly, we must confront the existing gaps of our current system of education if this or any national goal involving the building of human capital is to be addressed. At a conference on mathematics and science held in 2012 by The Mico University College to examine the state of education in Jamaica and the region, the following recommendations were highlighted as the way forward:

• The reinvention of education and pedagogy

• Revise mathematics and science curricula

• Mathematics and science are for everyone

• Make maths and science teaching/learning fun

On the matter of reinvention of education and pedagogy, the conference which included representatives from India, USA, Britain, Finland, and the Caribbean agreed that relevant curricula should ensure the following:

• Promotion of analytical thinking and innovation

• Investigations of the natural environment, culture and sports

• Practical applications incorporating community-based projects

• Promotion of reflectivity and collaboration

• Promoting partnership with stakeholders

• Making learning fun

• Relevance of curricula to society

• Promotion of real-life experiences

As a step in this direction The Mico University College has embarked on the development of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education curriculum for teachers. The curriculum has been developed around the areas listed above, as well as being deeply entrenched in cognitive neuroscience and the core problem-solving and dopamine stimulating artifacts found in STEAM. The curriculum is designed to be accessed by all teachers. The essential aim is to ensure that all teachers gain STEAM competencies which readily align with the eight main characteristics of effective curricula for the 21st century Jamaican. The Mico recognises its responsibility to address the national development issues associated with teacher education. As indicated in the McKinsey Report (2007): “No system of education can exceed the quality of its teachers.”

In relation to teacher quality the following practices are observed in Finland:

• Only 10 per cent of applicants into teacher preparation programmes are accepted.

• Prospective teachers earn bachelor's and master's degrees in their subject and/or pedagogy, completing five years of college-level classes and training.

• Teachers paid within 13 per cent of market.

• Less time spent teaching and more time spent collaborating to teach.

• Two years of internship

With the will and courage we can design a system to promote the equity required, and if not “five in four” at least five or more in a generation.

Albert Benjamin, PhD, is dean of the Faculty of Science & Technology at The Mico University College. Send comments to the Observer or




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