Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Mark Ricketts | Technology and education

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 9:00 AM
Mark Ricketts
Many parent are unable to monitor what their children are doing online.
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"In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It's not cool to not know what you're talking about." - President Barack Obama

Only one-quarter of the students who were eligible to take the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) this year got at least five subjects, including mathematics and English.

What makes these results troubling is that CSEC is the main platform for access to tertiary-level study and higher levels of workforce training. Second, such results negatively affect the quality of our labour market.

Third, as educator and researcher Dr Grace-Camille Monroe says: "CSEC is a benchmark of a student's overall academic achievement, and, by extension, a variable that influences the perception of an effective or ineffective school. Schools and parents, therefore, invest heavily in CSEC preparation and results."

If our performance trend continues, we will not be close to developing a high-productivity labour force or be ready to cope with the technological advance that makes the established way of doing things obsolete.

To hammer home the point, Ronald Thwaites, former minister of education, shared an experience of Dr Damien King, who told him about visiting a new-energy-producing site and noting the preponderance of foreign workers. "This should not surprise us," the former minister remarked. "It underscores the fact that our workforce has not yet achieved a global standard of education and training."

He went on further to say, "The workers needed for 21st-century employment will have to match the levels of discipline, order, and productivity; the sound command of the English language; and an indispensable proficiency in mathematics, the physical sciences, and information technology found in developed societies."

What all this tells us is that radical changes have to be made in education and in the classroom. The cultural mindset has to change. We have to create high schools and other learning institutions with new approaches to education so that performance becomes the hallmark of success and discipline plays a major part in our life choices.

It can't be just throwing more money at education to make it more free, as Robert Miller, adviser to Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, alludes to in of September 15 article in The Gleaner.

 

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

 

Miller points out that with the introduction of the policy of no tuition fees implemented by the Golding administration in 2007, under the stewardship of the then minister of education, now prime minister, Andrew Holness, this has levelled the playing field and has afforded the right of quality education to every child. The no-tuition-fee policy has resulted in a more equitable system, allowing our parents to feel more comfortable sending their children to school."

This year, the Government, under the no-tuition-fee policy, has nearly doubled its contribution per child and literally invited parents, if they can't pay their portion of what had become part of a workable agreement in years past, not to worry, Government will take care of you.

At this point, I ask, where is responsibility, and accountability? It is as if the Government is telling people that responsibility, as part of life's choices, is not necessary; we will always pick up the tab. Have children whether you can afford them or not, or whether you know who the father is to help with parenting, which is such a problem in Jamaica, and is so important in a child's learning.

The targeted intervention by Government is obviously misguided as the system is no more equitable today and the quality of education still leaves much to be desired.

Parents might feel more comfortable with the fee-less policy, where, if they can't, or choose not to, they do not have to pay, but I am sure they are very disappointed and discomforted when they realise the following:

That some of their children, after years of schooling, can't even qualify to sit their secondary-school external exams. Being denied the opportunity to sit those exams is not just because of a lack of adequate preparation at the high-school level. It suggests that there are inefficiencies and weaknesses in our educational system, starting as early as the foundation grades.

With our passes in CSEC mathematics declining sharply last year, what makes it particularly worrisome is that we can't afford to pay properly our most skilled educators, so a large percentage of our best maths teachers left the profession this year.

In light of this, there has to be a real turnaround in education in Jamaica. The first thing to do is to reverse immediately the thinking that by throwing money at education, schools can be a babysitter for students who do not succeed the first time around. There is now an extension of two more years being given to students to stay in schools, another policy initiative mentioned by Miller. I think he forgets that school is about discipline, goals, urgency, and performance.

Jamaica, with limited resources, is actually going in the wrong direction as the trend in the US is for high-school students to lift the bar even higher by pursuing dual-credit courses. Dual credits simultaneously apply towards high-school graduation and college credits. Increasingly, students are earning not only high-school credits, but also college/university credits while in high school. Some of the brighter students have even risen to the challenge and are entering university with the equivalent of an associate degree.

Even in Jamaica, schools with a serious commitment to performance have a sense of urgency and momentum.

There must be a paradigm shift in education and the classroom. The Ministry of Education should change its name to the Ministry of Education, Training and Technology. If students want to be au courant and hip, they could call the new ministry ET squared.

 

SCHOOL HUB

 

Next, a broad-spectrum virtual education centre, with high visibility, called The New Technology School Hub, should be created. This will be the nerve centre driving technology in the classrooms.

Our new approach to education will have all schools connected to the Internet, and learning will be equalised for all schools, so everybody will have access to high-quality education.

There will be integrated multimedia resources with TVs and videos interspersed with smartphones, tablets, computers, podcasts, and supplemented by reading materials, tests, and project instructions in every classroom.

This emphasis on technology will add momentum, width, and depth to what the Ministry of Education is already doing in its four-year plan to ensure that students all have tablets and to let them realise that with today's technology, they can take the initiative in doing research and learning online.

One On One Education Services Ltd, working through FLOW, could be a boon to the technological revolution in education when they eventually expand e-learning solutions to schools.

A real cultural shift as far as a technological breakthrough in education would be fantastic, especially when one recalls the connection of Ricardo Allen, president of One On One, to President Obama.

When the president of the US came to Jamaica last year, he launched Youth Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in his speech to a town hall meeting at the UWI, Mona, campus. This initiative was launched as a means of expanding opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and civil-society innovators.

The programme got under way with a pilot project of 24 young people from across the region who visited America in February this year. The participant from Jamaica was Allen, a Rhodes Scholar and Caribbean Achievement Scholar in consecutive years.

While in the US, Allen benefited from networking opportunities with entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. This strengthened his leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

This Obama-Allen connection is an excellent symbolic springboard and a feel-good success story that children all over Jamaica could feed into, thus driving our technological revolution in the classroom.

As readers will see over the weeks ahead, the multimedia technology I am advocating is not to excessively push computer-aided teaching in schools, but to make school interesting and relevant for students. It is great if they can understand and be motivated from an early age as to why school is necessary, as well as the possibilities that come from learning.

- Mark Ricketts, economist, author, and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper; and publisher of Money Index, a weekly business magazine. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.