Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
In a relatively short time (13 years), Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has made strides as it seeks to fulfil its mandate to deliver graduates of the highest calibre in all its disciplines. One of the latest in a number of bold moves is NCU's plan to set up pilot schools to fix the math problem in Jamaica. In a recent interview with The Gleaner, Dr Trevor Gardner, president of NCU, explained the rationale for the initiative.
"We observe that we are weakest in mathematics. Our performance does not demonstrate that we are effective in teaching math, so we need teachers who are mastering the curriculum because the failure rate is directly related to the teaching methods," Gardner said.
He said that research demonstrates that because everyone learns mathematics differently, the learning process has to be changed. For example, it was discovered that one of the weakest links in girls' performance is in their spatial perception.
"Data shows that when students are paired for mathematics, girls show a higher improvement because boys usually already have higher spatial perception. So our curriculum will have to be delivered differently," Gardner said.
The NCU head noted that from his observations, there were significant weaknesses in the subject and students' performance on standardised tests, adding that the students who readily grasped maths would move ahead and do well wherever they went.
"But we have to have teachers who are mastering it also. Several years of research demonstrates consistently that the weakest link in the performance of students directly relates to teaching - that most common factor," stressed Gardner.
He revealed that NCU intends to start an institute for math educators.
"It's not a degree in mathematics, but a degree in the teaching of mathematics. There is a big hole in the delivery system," noted the educator, who said the plan is to fill the hole by starting with some pilot schools in Manchester. The experts at the campus will be building the curriculum for delivery to the schools.
Language has been pinpointed as one key element in the approach to mathematics teaching, and time is the other. "We believe time makes a difference. Increase the time spent on language through different disciplines because language is used in all other areas. Facts are important, but students must express themselves in appropriate language, including when teaching and learning mathematics," he explained.
He said that by increasing the number of hours spent on the subject, better results would be seen. Citing the examples of Singapore, where 240 hours per year were allotted to math teaching; the United States, which offers 180 hours; and the Caribbean and Latin America, where 140 hours were dedicated, he said it was obvious from performance worldwide that time on task made a tremendous difference.
"For this long-term strategy, we have to start small, but by January 2014, we should have the schools selected to start the pilot programme in Manchester. We will use existing math teachers but different methodologies in teaching the subject," he said.