Dancehall to boost STEM education
Realising the need to get the younger generation involved in the field of science and technology, the Science Genius Jamaica initiative has come up with a creative way to engage primary and high school students to increase their interest in STEM.
The strategy is the use of culture through Jamaican dancehall and reggae music to make the area a little more relatable and exciting. This year’s staging of the project, which was officially launched on Wednesday, June 3, will see the event being hosted virtually in which students will have the option of working collaboratively with their teacher and current curriculum or independently to create songs on any science topic, using a dancehall rhythm that is provided.
Students will also receive mentorship from celebrity dancehall and reggae artistes alongside science experts via weekly Zoom webinars and on Instagram Live chats and will be assessed by a panel of judges, including founder of Halls of Learning Marvin Hall and music producer Mikey Bennett.
Speaking with The Gleaner, education consultant and co-convener of Science Genius Dr Renée Rattray spoke on the digital migration of the project due to the onset of the global health pandemic, COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has allowed us to reimagine this year’s staging of Science Genius Jamaica, and we are, therefore, doing it virtually, using all social media channels in a far greater way than we did before. Our young people are in the digital space, and we are happy to meet them there. It is anticipated that even more students and teachers will participate this time around, and we have extended the competition to include primary school students. We also have a category for teachers to show their genius as well. This will be extremely exciting.”
Touching on what she described as the unquestionable impact of music on the human psyche, Rattray said: “It heals, provokes, inspires, teaches, and enriches lives. Merging education with music makes perfect sense, and further infusing dancehall and reggae – a rich part of our heritage – can only serve to strengthen the identity and confidence of our young people as they can see themselves and their culture is valued and respected in education spaces.”
The initiative originated with Columbia University Professor Christopher Emdin’s Science Genius – #HipHopEd, a project that utilises the power of hip-hop music and culture to introduce youth to the wonder and beauty of science. Edmin said “In a number of research studies that focus on the best supports for learning, music consistently emerges as the best aid for memory, cognition, focus, positive mood, and stimulating creativity. At the same time, all of the research around the skills necessary to engage in science on a high level include activating the memory, sharp cognition, creativity, focus, and a passion for the subject. Connecting the two just makes sense. This is particularly the case when we are talking about music that has a cultural connection to young people. A musical art form like dancehall is a natural teaching tool because it moves the body, activates the mind, and touches the soul. When these three aspects of the self are activated towards learning, a person is fully engaged in the learning process. It is important to use dancehall in teaching a subject like science because it brings together two art forms that many perceive to be completely disconnected and allows them to inform and transform each other. Furthermore, we know that students who are successful in science and see themselves as being scientifically literate are more likely to be successful in all other subject areas.”
Participants will be mentored by dancehall and reggae artistes including Tifa, Wayne Marshall, Tanya Stephens, Chevaughn, Jesse Royal, and Agent Sasco.