Education system focusing on job readiness - McLean
Several initiatives are in place to prepare students for the world of work, said chief education officer in the Ministry of Education Dr Grace McLean. She was responding to comments at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum by Silburn Clarke, deputy chairman of the Labour Market Reform Commission, who had stated that the education system was not properly preparing students for the 21st-century workforce.
McLean pointed out that while this might have been so in the past, the Ministry of Education had embarked on the integration of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) into the high school curriculum with the objective of equipping students with marketable skills. She disclosed that since the approval of the National TVET policy in 2013, thirteen new subjects had been introduced at the secondary level in the Caribbean Advance Proficiency Examination, the Caribbean Vocational Qualification and the National Vocational Qualification of Jamaican examinations.
These subjects include digital media, tourism, small ruminants, apiculture, renewable energy, meat and seafood handling, floral arrangement, computer graphics, visual merchandising, logistics and supply chain management, customer service, food and beverage, and entrepreneurship.
In addition of the 35 subjects offered by the Caribbean Examinations Council at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate level, 15 are TVET subjects, and an increasing number of students are entering for these subjects, and pass rates are very good, in general, McLean disclosed.
McLean stated that all high schools are now entering students to sit TVET subjects in external exams. She reported that last year, the ministry had spent more than $150 million to purchase materials and equipment for schools offering the technical and vocational subjects, and another $100 million is to be spent in this current school year.
The chief education officer said that the philosophy of the ministry is to ensure that each student exits the secondary-level system with the necessary competencies and skills to take his rightful place in society. However, she underscored the need for parents and the society at large to make a "positive paradigm shift in their attitude and perception towards TVET".
Pointing to another initiative to prepare students for the world of work, McLean reported that in 2015, the ministry appointed several captains of industry to lead the transformation of the curricula in nine secondary-level schools into specialised areas using the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching methodology.
The industry leaders are Grantley Stephenson - logistics and transport; Y.P. Seaton - built environment; Yoni Epstein - information communication technology (ICT) and business processing outsourcing; Charles Johnston - farm management and food processing; Keith Amiel - livestock, small ruminants farming; and Hugh Cross - telecommunications and new media technologies.
Over time, these schools are expected to be transformed into STEM academies, where typically, grades 10 and 11 students are offered competency-based training to make them job ready. In the lower grades, STEM, along with TVET, is being emphasised in the curriculum. The STEM approach is to be rolled out in more high schools over time, McLean said.
In addition to the promotion of STEM and TVET in secondary schools, McLean reported that the National Standard Curriculum was being designed to create a greater focus on concepts, skills, and competences to balance the current overemphasis on acquisition of content knowledge. She stated that the new curriculum, which will apply to grade one to nine, "will ensure that young people are well prepared for the challenges and opportunities they will meet as adults in this century of rapid technological and social change".
According to the chief education officer, job-ready training for students is also carried out by Junior Achievement in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the United States Agency for International Development. The Junior Achievement activities include the JA BizTown, which is a four-week comprehensive entrepreneurial and financial literacy programme for grade five students.
In addition, National Careers Week for all ages will be observed from February 13-19, 2016. February 19 will be observed as Take Your Child to Work Day, and will target grades seven to nine students.
By 2018, entrepreneurship will become a mandatory course in high school via the Junior Achievement Company of Entrepreneurs programme, McLean disclosed.
She also cited the Registered Apprenticeship Programme as contributing to preparing students for the labour market. Currently, 622 male and female apprentices are engaged in training in various disciplines across multiple sectors, including services, hospitality and tourism, information communication technology, and construction.