Education ministry to identify extra $150 million for extensive mathematics project
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says the ministry is committed to identifying approximately $150 million in additional resources during the 2014/15 fiscal year to advance the national mathematics project, which is aimed at achieving grade-four student mastery in the subject, by 2018.
Thwaites noted that the original 2015 target would not be met, based on the below-par performance of a significant number of students in the subject at the grade-four level.
Speaking at the closing session of a two-day retreat for the ministry's mathematics specialists at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston, on December 20, Thwaites said it was disappointing that the 2015 target would not be achieved, and emphasised that, "It is certainly incumbent on all of us to ensure that we get back on track as quickly as possible."
"I laid in the House of Represen-tatives on Tuesday (December 17) a paper, largely prepared by (National Mathematics Coordinator) Dr (Tamika) Benjamin, calling for an acceleration of the mathematics project. She has estimated that we will need, in addition to the resources that we are bringing together, an additional $150 million during the upcoming financial year in order to advance the prospects, not of 2015, but certainly of 2018," the minister said.
Thwaites said that analyses of the students' below-par performance in mathematics showed, to a great extent, limited understanding of the subject, adding that there was "antipathy towards it, and also because, quite frankly, many have not been taught very well."
"My own observation and ex-perience is that (for) both students and teachers, many of them are afraid of the subject and lack the confidence that is required for learning. Many are promoted to higher grades in school, not having achieved the adequate competence at the earlier grades, and we have insufficient content knowledge. Also, some teachers don't have the requisite skill, in terms of methodology, to deliver the subject," he indicated.
Meanwhile, Thwaites said the country was "closer" to achieving the grade-four literacy target of 100 per cent mastery by 2015. This, he pointed out, is being supported by the ministry's acquisition of resources transferred from the United States Agency for International Develop-ment (USAID)/Jamaica Basic Education Project.
starting from early
That initiative supported the government's efforts to improve reading in grades one to three in more than 170 of the country's primary and all-age schools deemed to be performing below par in literacy.
The programme entailed teacher training and the development of tools to assess students' progress. To date, the programme has, among other things, seen more than 460 teachers and educators being trained, and close to 2,000 students benefiting from remedial literacy interventions.
Thwaites said attainment of the literacy target is going to be achieved by the "prodigious performance" of the girls, "because the boys are lagging 20 per cent behind the girls".
He pointed out that the gap between the girls and the boys in mathematics was also "significant", hence "we had better assess what it is that we must do."
"To have competence in mathe-matics is an essential element of quality education, because the modern economy requires mathematics as the gateway to science and as the prism into economic development," the minister emphasised.
The two-day retreat, which was attended by mathematics specialists attached to the ministry's six regions, entailed discussions and deliberations on a range of topics, including: problem solving approaches to teaching mathematics; working with principals and teachers; evaluation of strengths and weaknesses; reviewing the strategic plan, and challenges to its implementation.