Jamaica's primary school students currently sit the Primary Exit Profile, (PEP) as the mechanism for determining high school places.
The curriculum at all levels should consist of the following core:
Language – Jamaican, English, other languages, in particular Spanish, French, Mandarin. English should be taught as a foreign language. A useful technique for teaching English is to have students translate the Jamaican language – e.g., Jamaican songs – into English.
Mathematics – with the emphasis on reasoning instead of calculation, as is appropriate in the age of calculators on every phone. Calculation should be used as examples to illustrate, rather than replace, the reasoning process
Environmental studies – about the natural environment of Jamaica in general, and the local environment in particular.
Include research and discovery projects that generate and collect local data on the environment – e.g. rainfall data, flood damage, bush fires, river behaviour, tide levels, shore erosion, hillside erosion etcThis will be a major contribution to the collection of local data to guide the customization of policy to manage the impacts of climate change since Jamaica needs local data to implement national policy.
Social studies/Civics – history, the structure of Jamaican government, society, community, family etc.Presentations using modern information communication technologies– e.g. powerpoint – should be facilitated and encouraged for this and other areas of study
The content of the core will vary with the level of education. The core will be complemented by other subjects according to the level of education, the particular school and the requirements of external examinations. For example, rural schools may choose to have courses in agriculture; some schools may choose to have courses in music and entertainment; some schools may have programmes in robotics.
InstructionSelect the best teachers (master teachers) for each subject area in each level of education and prepare professionally and commercially attractive videos of them making all the presentations for the courses in that subject area for the whole year. These videos will be broadcasted over TV and via government cable channels to be received by TV sets in classrooms and homes. All schools will receive the same lectures for every subject area, so that the quality of instruction will be the same in all schools.
Teachers at the schools will conduct tutorials around the common set of lectures and lead other learning exercises, under the guidance of the master teachers who presented the lectures. Assessment of centrally set exams, with local sections, will be done locally at each school.
Parents are the first teachers of their children. One view is that it is parents who guide the education process, and the school system delivers it. This view emphasized the responsibility of parents to participate and to support the education process in whatever ways they can. This view should be encouraged.
Parents of young children are most likely to be young enough to benefit from life-long learning programmes. Learning in such a situation is integral to home life.
Assessment will be based on centrally prepared common quizzes and examinations, with allowances for local variations.
There will be no examination to filter primary students into secondary schools. Students will automatically attend the secondary school closest to them since the core curriculum and instruction will be common to all schools.
A school leaving/CXC-type examination will be mandatory for graduation
Teacher training and re-training
Shift the balance of teacher training to more emphasis on techniques of engaging students in tutorial exercises for problem solving and stimulating and organizing them for learning exercises. The long-term strategy for the education system is to shift the balance from teaching to learning.
Teachers need to be proficient in basic computing skills. The minimum proficiency should be competence in the Microsoft Office suite, surfing the Internet, and a working familiarity with the social media that young people use most frequently. The Ministry of Education Youth and Information in partnership with the business community, including the Telecommunication Companies, will have to supply the basic equipment and services that they will need to develop their proficiency.
Subject matter expertise will still be an important part of teacher training, but there should be a shift from knowing facts to discovering information. This is true for the science subjects as well as the Arts subjects. There are new scientific facts emerging daily. Pumping old facts into our children’s brains can only be justified where they are used to illustrate scientific principles, but not as an end in themselves. Similarly, history is constantly being rewritten from modern perspectives, and in our case from non-colonial perspectives. Even language is evolving, and teachers need to be able to comprehend the slang of the youth as well as to appreciate changes in style that are becoming more acceptable.
There are many international conferences and seminars on best practices that could benefit our teachers. As professionals, they should be required to attend a minimum number of these opportunities annually to expose themselves to modern effective trends in education.
Develop a “regional” back office for multiple schools to deal with accounts, payments, maintenance, and other common overhead activities. For example, St. George’s College, Holy Trinity, Kingston College, Alpha and Wolmer’s could be served by one high quality administrative team. Each could still have its own principal, but no school needs its own bursar and maintenance manager. All schools need quality services in these areas, and that requires well-trained and properly remunerated staff that is difficult for any one school to afford.
Establish a comprehensive e-library to serve all schools
Sports and other extra-curricular activity
Extra-curricular activity, including sports, should be programmed to support the learning experience and the building of character aligned to the objectives of the education programme set out above.
There are non-performance areas of sport, theatre, music and other cultural fields – management, medicine, training, costumery, lighting, stage management etc – for which some schools may wish to offer programmes to stimulate student interest that can be pursued at the tertiary level.
The Ministry of Education & Youth should develop a physical infrastructure plan and invest heavily in rapidly upgrading the physical facilities for the schools that are most in need. There should be a parallel plan for investing heavily to create a common level of capacity for Internet access in partnership with the telecommunications companies and the suppliers of the requisite administrative and instructional software across schools.
Use the public private partnership approach to augment the Ministry of Education & Youth's own investment funds to invest in upgrading schools in partnership with alumni, local and in the Diaspora, local businesses and particularly the construction and telecommunication sectors.
Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA)
As one of the principal partners in the leadership of the education sector, along with the government and parents, the JTA must commit to participating in the conceptualization and implementation of the plan to transform the sector. It bears its proportionate share of responsibility for the challenges faced by the education system and its processes, and credit for the successes. It will have to look to the long run interests of its membership if it is to play a positive role in the transformation. It should be evident that the interests of its membership will be served in the medium to long run by a revamped education system that is better able to engage student interests and produce a higher quality graduate. Higher quality graduates will be an important contribution to reducing crime and violence, improving public health, and enhancing the productivity that the economy so desperately needs.
At some not-too-distant future, the remuneration structure for teachers needs to attract brighter and more committed individuals into the teaching profession. As with every other area of Jamaican economic activity, there will be no advance without increased productivity, and in the drive for higher productivity too, education can lead the way for every other sphere of social and economic activity that depends on it.
Today’s migrants can participate in community meetings, homework help sessions, school meetings, and special presentations from wherever they are using technology that they probably have in their homes, their offices or on their person. They should be encouraged to send computers and tablets for their relatives and to their alma maters and pay some of the Internet bills for the students in their families and at their former schools. Professionals can make presentations in their areas of strength and mentor students.
There should be a campaign to encourage our citizens in the Diaspora to contribute in concrete ways to the education system.
These proposals could be implemented over three years, with sufficient re-prioritization of public expenditure and mobilization of private financing. Re-prioritization can be justified by recognizing the contribution of education to crime management, health improvement, economic development etc, and reallocating resources to education.