THE ANNUAL lamentations about the unimpressive performance of Jamaican students in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language and mathematics examinations have been echoing across the land following the recent publishing of the 2012 results.
The situation has been aggravated with the dip in the results for English language this year. But the real tragedy is the consistently low performance of Jamaican students in CSEC mathematics. For example, the percentage of students obtaining grades one to three in mathematics for public schools over the last four years are 40.9 per cent
It is time the society stops the annual hand-wringing ritual and implement workable strategies to radically improve students' performance in mathematics, which is critical to the mastery of science, technology and business subjects.
One strategy recommended by this newspaper is the deployment of master teachers at the regional level to assist colleagues in improving their teaching skills in mathematics and other challenging subjects. The master teacher programme, first mooted under former Education Minister Burchell Whiteman, has been stillborn. But it is a cost-effective and comparatively quick route to enhance the quality of the stock of math teachers, in particular.
This is an initiative that newly installed Jamaica Teachers' Association President Clayton Hall needs to resurrect and fast-track. Based on his public utterances, this initiative appears to be one that Education Minister Ronald Thwaites would support.
Allied to the deployment of master math teachers, we also suggest the provision of incentives to attract/retain expert math teachers in the education system. The matter of providing special incentives to some teachers is a knotty one.
But, if market forces dictate the payment of a premium to employ/retain scarce or in-demand subject teachers, there has to be a rational response. This is another matter that the Clayton Hall administration needs to take on board as they enter salaries and benefits negotiations with Government.
A third strategy, and perhaps the most critical, to improve the teaching/learning of mathematics is a radical revamping of the curriculum in teachers' colleges. We perceive two deficits - one is that student teachers, at the diploma level, are not being adequately equipped to teach math beyond grade nine, and that they need upgrading in knowledge and technique to produce commendable results in CSEC examinations.
The other weakness in the teachers' college curriculum, we contend, is that the generalist preparation of primary-school teachers does not necessarily equip them to be subject specialists - particularly in math. With the national performance in math found wanting, perhaps it is time for specialist math teachers to be trained and deployed to primary schools.
The fourth and final strategy we commend to the education authorities is the increased integration of computer-based instruction and learning, including the use of e-books, in the teaching of math. This technology facilitates self-paced learning, which benefits both fast and slow learners, and increased scope for personalised/individual instruction.
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