Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
Special education in Jamaica is often talked about in the context of students' poor performance, usually eliminating the fact that there are many pupils who are gifted and talented beyond their chronological age.
As it stands now, there is no education policy in place to capture those students with above-average potential.
However, Dr Viviene DeOkoro has developed a system that she has been using for close to 20 years to identify and teach several academically gifted and otherwise talented children at her Deokoro Magnet Schools, located on Hope Road in St Andrew.
"Some students are being dumped in the system. If children are not challenged, they become very bored and will drop out," DeOkoro said. "So we allow them to work according to their intelligence."
Under this system, DeOkoro managed to help five students, between 10 and 11 years old, sit and successfully complete four subjects in the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence examinations (CCSLC).
The CCSLC was developed by the Caribbean Examination Council to give students who gained mastery in five or more subjects a regional secondary school leaving certificate that qualifies them for the world of work.
The five were able to pass mathematics, English language, integrated science and social studies along with the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).
The DeOkoro method
DeOkoro said her method involves a pre-test, when students first register with the programme, to ascertain the level at which the students are performing and their required learning styles.
She said they are then given individualised teaching and are allowed to learn at their own pace.
"A child may be in, say, grade four, and we find that that child's intelligence is beyond his or her age. That child is allowed to finish the syllabus and move on if it takes them one month or a term," DeOkoro noted.
Meanwhile, the five students who completed the programme - Tionne Stewart, Judah Jarrett, Kira Hall, Leanna Whittock and Josiya Niaah - will be taking on the daunting task of completing five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations this academic year.
Dr Sonjah N. Stanley Niaah, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies, gave the Deokoro Magnet School high praises for changing her son's attitude towards school.
"My son, Josiya Niaah, is one of those children who would have been underchallenged in the regular school system and who would have manifested a number of behaviour patterns that would have been called troublemaking," Niaah noted.
Her son was one of the five students who successfully completed the CCSLC this year.
She added that the 'troublesome' label was only attached to her son because of numerous questions and heightened curiosity.
"He came to me and said he didn't want to go back to his previous school, so I decided to move him and try Dr DeOkoro's method and, within a few weeks, I saw changes in his attitude to schoolwork and his overall confidence went up," Niaah stated.
She said her observation of the students at the Deokoro Magnet School reinforced her belief that the education ministry should embark on formulating a gifted education curriculum for those students who simply languish in the system because they are not being challenged enough.