WHAT DOES it take to achieve a 100 per cent success rate in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations for five consecutive years?
According to Wilbert Edwards, head of the Information Technology (IT) Department at Jamaica College, it takes consistency, careful analysis of one's performance, and determined attention to weak areas, in addition to a good teaching team and putting critical resources in place.
Even more important, he adds, "We basically work towards a certain goal. We were given a mandate by the principal, it's just a mission for us to be excellent!"
In 2013, a total of 84 Jamaica College fifth-form students sat information technology exams at the CSEC level, and every one of them passed, with 67 per cent of them achieving distinctions or grade ones. There were 56 grade ones, 25 grade twos and three grade threes. Even more impressive, Jamaica College began scoring 100 per cent passes in this technical area in 2009. This success rate has continued to date.
A former mathematics teacher who switched to information technology because he finds it more exciting, Edwards, who trained at the University of Technology, says he thrives on new things, adding, "With IT, the technology keeps on changing and I think that is more fun." Passing on a sense of excitement and new opportunities to students is another of the department head's success strategies.
"I look at the outer world and see what is available and where we are heading" he explains. "We are no longer labour-intensive, we are now more skill-intensive. And the students can use the Internet to empower themselves as well as to create their own jobs. I challenge them in terms of their exam results. If they can get a straight-A profile, I will give them a token.
I also make them aware that we Caribbean people are mostly using other people's software and asking the people that own it to train us. So I encourage the mindset of creating their own software, and then they will be able to train others (to use it)."
Edwards says he also focuses on developing key skill sets the youngsters will need to function in the world - such as problem solving, forecasting, observation, and interpreting. At the IT level, this can include skills such as setting up a budget in Excel, using mail merge in Microsoft Word and storing information in a database.
At Jamaica College, students begin studying IT from second form and can continue to sixth form. Those who qualify to take the subject at the CSEC level in fifth form, start this syllabus in fourth form. Edwards explains that a recent change, based on analysis of past CSEC results, involves the selection of candidates based on their third form performance in mathematics as well as IT, instead of just IT alone.
Logan Gayle, one of the six information technology teachers who make up Edwards' team, notes that IT is one of the most challenging, yet popular subjects at Jamaica College.
Seventeen-year-old Roel McBean, who boasts a straight-A profile, shares his own success secrets: "Studying, hard work and I don't leave the class if I don't understand something." he says. Roel plans to go on to university and to become a computer programmer.
Ato Plummer, who scored almost full marks on his SBA as well as achieving a distinction in his recent CSEC IT exam, aims to study business with a major in information technology at university. He says, "In general, I love computer (studies), so during class I keep my head down. I pay attention and get my SBA done!"