Large Abroad: Jamaican pioneering science education in Abu Dhabi
Dr Kenisha Wilson is passionate about science education, a passion that has led her to Zayed University, in Abu Dhabi, where she is an assistant professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Apart from getting accustomed to a Sunday-Thursday workweek and a few cultural nuances, Wilson indicated that her transition to the oil-rich country was without incident.
"One just needs to be aware of their surroundings and customs and act accordingly. I remember taking the bus during my first week here, and since it was mostly empty, I went to sit in the back. The driver approached and very politely told me I couldn't sit there. When I asked why, he told me the back of the bus is for the men and the three front rows were reserved for women," she said as she shared experiences of living in the Middle Eastern country with The Gleaner.
After three years as a chemistry lecturer at the University of Technology (UTech), Wilson responded to the promptings of a colleague, applied for a position at Zayed and was accepted. Her move to the emirate has not only changed her approach to teaching but also her research interest as a scientist.
"As pure scientists in academia at the tertiary level, sometimes we seldom focus on effective teaching practices. For many of us, the method of instruction that we received was mainly chalk-and-talk and inadvertently that is the same method we often employ in our classrooms. Moving to the Middle East saw me teaching Arabic English language learners (AELLs). My students were being taught in a language they are still trying to master. I could not, therefore, employ the same old pedagogic strategies. I had to get innovative and creative in order for my students to have a meaningful experience in the classroom while achieving their full academic potential," she said.
The results obtained through the infusion of active learning and culturally relevant strategies in her classes led Wilson to conduct research and publish three journal articles and two book chapters to satisfy what she sees as the "the paucity in regards to effective teaching strategies for AELLs in the field of science education".
While this veers from the type of chemistry-based research she did while in Jamaica, Wilson said her love for research has not waned.
"I am exploring ways to effect change in the way we approach science education at the tertiary level, especially for English language learners. I am of the opinion that we need to embrace and implement research-informed and evidence-based curriculum into our practices for it to be effective," she explained.
The Titchfield High graduate attributes her love for science and, in particular, chemistry, to the passion and enthusiasm displayed by her chemistry teacher. Beyond the influence of the classroom at Titchfield High, Wilson excelled as member of the school's netball and debating teams and was also appointed head girl.
"Titchfield was truly a nurturing institution that enabled me to develop my confidence in both academics and extracurricular activities," she said.
Wilson also attributes her success to humble beginnings in Portland, revealing that, "My mother constantly reminded me that with an education, I would become anything I wanted to be and to never to settle for mediocrity." She was determined to see me live a better life than the one she had and work literally day and night to send me to school. It was from my mother that I learnt the value of honesty and integrity and that only through hard work would I accomplish my goals."