Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Amidst howls of disappointment over the depressing Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) mathematics exams results, two of Jamaica's veteran educators say the answer lies in classroom management and the competence of those teaching the subject.
Russell Bell, operator of the MRC Learning Centre, says most of the children he teaches come from Jamaica's top traditional high schools and are successful in the exam.
"Sixty-one of the fourth formers we sent up for CSEC exams this year came from at least 14 of these (traditional) schools,' Bell told The Sunday Gleaner.
The schools include, St George's College; Immaculate; Holy Childhood; and Campion College.
"We keep detailed numbers only for the fourth formers, as we do not think it fair to take total credit for the fifth formers since they are also being prepared by their schools. For the fourth formers, the results have been excellent," said Bell, who operates MRC with his wife.
"We have sent up over 250 fourth formers (for the maths exam) in the past five years. Over 150 have earned a distinction, that is, over 60 per cent. About 90 per cent of our students earn either a distinction or a credit.
"Only three students have not passed the exams in this period, thus we have averaged a 99 per cent pass rate in the period," said Bell.
He charged that one of his students from a St Catherine-based upgraded secondary school received a grade one for mathematics and that was the first time the school had ever achieved this grade in the subject.
"In at least one case in the past five years, two of the students were repeating third form, yet they passed," said Bell.
A former Jamaica national football player, Bell is a strong believer in the famous Latin mens sana in corpore sano (a sound mind in a healthy body), and argues that the society's immersion in "mindless consumerism" has resulted in a culture of spontaneity where instinct weighs more heavily than thoughtful reflection.
Where MRC bridges the widening maths gap in the Corporate Area, Earl Lillie, former vice-principal of May Day High School in Manchester does the same for central Jamaica.
"Teachers must have mastery of the subjects. You can't keep explaining the concept the same way if the children don't understand it in the first place. That is the recipe for madness," said Lillie.
"The truth is, with the students, the basic skills and concepts are lacking," added Lillie as he argued that a lack of preparation by teachers is a major issue.
"The teachers' colleges need to do more to prepare the teachers to go to the classrooms and teach. Learning takes places when children are motivated to learn. They must be self-motivated and must be motivated by the class," the now-retired Lillie states.
Lillie's expertise has been used to prepare students from nearly all of the secondary schools in Manchester, and some from St Elizabeth and Clarendon.
The Church Teachers' College graduate said there are several academically bright teachers, including some of those teaching mathematics, who do not know how to impart knowledge.
"Greater all-round effort is needed on everyone's part," said Lillie.
'Teachers must have mastery of the subjects. You can't keep explaining the concept the same way if the children don't understand it in the first place.' — Earl Lillie