Changing course at JFLL - Former JAMAL morphs into full-fledged adult education agency
Worrel Hibbert, Contributor
This year has been an exciting one for the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL). The best summary of it could be the word 'reinvention', which would almost certainly be endorsed by any management scholar.
The beginning of the year saw the engagement of a key staff member, the deputy executive director, in the person of Dr Grace Munroe. Her overriding task was to review the decades-old adult literacy and numeracy programmes pioneered by JAMAL in the 1970s. The task was not only to upgrade these programmes for the 21st century, but to expand them from a grades 1-4 adult literacy programme into a robust grades 1-11 literacy, numeracy, junior high, and high-school programme, culminating in five CXC/CSEC examination passes.
On July 24, the new curricula were launched by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites under the name he had coined for it months before, the High School Diploma Equivalency (HSDE) programme.
It is a three-step adult-education programme, designed to take anyone 17 years and older from basic literacy to readiness for community college entrance, beginning at whatever level they are ready for.
To provide the greatest utility to learners, the programme is aligned to the academic world and industry. The basic level covers literacy and numeracy and from grades 1-6. While this prepares learners for many low-level manual jobs and the ability to read and function in the world, it is really just a platform for the next level.
The intermediate level provides learners with a grades 7-9 general education, including mathematics, English Language, science and technology. At the end of this course of study, learners will be prepared to either pursue more lucrative career options or, critically, to challenge the HEART/NTA entrance test to secure full matriculation to its programmes.
Critical to job seekers
This articulation is critical to job seekers and the nation as a whole, as it promises to strengthen the quality of the labour supply for industry in general, and dovetails with several national priority projects, including the Jamaica Logistics Hub.
For learners with higher academic aspirations, including those already possessing skills certification, the programme offers a third proficiency level, covering grades 10 and 11. Here learners will prepare to challenge five CSEC examinations, including Mathematics, English Language, science and technology. Upon success, they will be qualified to enter community college and some universities, based on their matriculation policies.
In addition to articulation with academia and industry, the HSDE has been designed to match international standards for adult education in markets popular with Jamaican immigrants.
Arising from this, the HSDE has been recognised by the New York State Office of Adult and Continuing Education, the Ontario Ministry of Education, George Brown College, and Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto in Canada.
Recognising the need to infuse values and attitudes as part of the education process, the programme includes a life-skills component designed to uplift learners' self esteem and help them find more amicable interactions with society, especially in moments of disagreement.
While the July 24 launch highlighted the new programme and its delivery through the JFLL/JAMAL adult learning centre delivery mechanism, the new programme was deployed immediately to JFLL's Workplace Unit.
Here the JFLL immediately began its infusion to existing projects such as the Majesty Gardens Community Education project, a partnership with the Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Citizens Security and Justice Project.
The Workplace Unit has been working with several companies and NGOs to extend the JFLL's reach into communities and companies alike.
Among their successes was the November launch of a scholarship programme funded by the Jamaica Biscuit Company to fund the tuition of 100 learners from the Three Miles area of Kingston at JFLL centres.
The run up to September saw another part of the reinvention taking centre stage. This took the form of a massive retooling project to ensure the physical readiness of JFLL's adult learning centres to ensure they were ready for not only larger numbers of learners but for all of them to have elevated expectations for their learning environment.
This process was mapped exactly onto the planned deployment schedule for the HSDE, with the parish offices in six parishes being renovated and improved in every way.
September saw JFLL entering a new phase of its history with the start of HSDE classes in its six pilot parishes. Fortunately, the process was generally smooth and is teaching valuable lessons to improve the programme and get it ready for a full-scale delivery in 2015.
While these steps have all been major, they are part of a broader picture. To get to this point, the JFLL has undertaken several other major steps that, while less prominent, are a significant and sometimes critical part of the process.
Most critical was a strategic, operational and cultural shift within the organisation, led by Chairman Audrey Hinchcliffe, that required JFLL to part with its legacy of strictly adult literacy as JAMAL and assume a new role and vision in the form of adult general education.
To that end, in addition to reinventing the curricula, the Board, with the blessings of Thwaites, has set out to review and, if needed, reformulate the whole company, its structure, its personnel and their skills, its operating policies, locations, and technology.
The result, to date, is a company that is at a point of genuflection in its transition, leaving the unnecessary limitations of a narrowly literacy-focused entity and becoming a broader-based adult educator, articulated to society and industry at more points and in more strategically critical ways.
For the JFLL, if 2014 was the year of innovation, then 2015 is to be its year of implementation.
It enters 2015 with many of its key changes and advancements developed and in advanced stages of implementation, leaving managerial time and ability free to pursue a new set of objectives.
Foremost among these are the completion of the HSDE academic deployment into the phase-two parishes. This will be attended to the continued retooling of the adult learning centres, the reinvigoration of the JFLL educational distribution network and an organisational rebranding and student-recruitment drive
Notwithstanding its rigorous development, the HSDE curriculum is a new product, and like any new product, it needs to be tested and undoubtedly tweaked. JFLL's programme design and deployment plan has built this in as an ongoing parallel review and modification process that is hinged on learner advancement and feedback and also on the need to ensure learners currency in the workforce and the world at large.
The move to fully deploy the programme islandwide will mark a large step for JFLL and the HSDE programme, as it will essentially be the start of the final stages of JFLL's strategic transitioning from an adult literacy provider to an adult general education provider.
Throughout its history, the JFLL has enjoyed popular and wide support in civil society, NGOs and the education and religious communities that allowed it to develop a cadre of volunteer adult learning centres across the island that took the form of churches, community centres, schools, and even businesses that played a critical and invaluable role in delivering adult literacy.
In looking forward to 2015, JFLL intends to reinvigorate these strategic partnerships, offering the opportunity for them to offer the HSDE programme to their learners and constituents.
This partnership drive will also see the engagement with many potential new partners, particularly in areas that are difficult to serve or remote. In this way, JFLL and its partners can secure the organisational effectiveness and outcomes they seek, while achieving the efficiencies of partnership and cost-effectiveness. In the present economic climate, and the impending opportunities for educated and skilled Jamaicans, strategic partnership building takes on increased importance.
At the end of these processes will emerge a new adult education agency, well and distantly advanced from its roots in adult literacy.
To secure its position, it will be necessary for the organisation to take its recognisable place in the education industry and the national consciousness. This phase of the reinvention will see the JFLL transition to a new branding. While recognising its history of successes and contribution to nation and community building, it will be a new organisation with a new purpose to effect and communicate.
This rebranding will be the flag bearer for an aggressive marketing programme that will seek to directly recruit learners to achieve a target of 10,000 active learners by 2016. This programme will see a mix of grass-roots recruiting, advertising and social-media driven recruiting and extensive liasing with partners and key agents to engage with adults and youth 17 and over.
The JFLL has taken on a mighty task in seeking to reinvent itself as an already iconic organisation, programme and brand. It does this, intending to repeat its success as the executor of the 1970's literacy programme with a new programme in a new age, and for a more sophisticated and broader range of learners.
Worrel Hibbert is the recently appointed executive director of the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning.