Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Denise Minott | Curriculum and the ‘new normal’

Published:Saturday | September 11, 2021 | 12:08 AMDenise Minott - Guest Columnist

Two high-school students share a laptop to attend online classes at an ice cream shop in Kingston in this September 2020 photograph.
Two high-school students share a laptop to attend online classes at an ice cream shop in Kingston in this September 2020 photograph.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Jamaica and other countries in the world to be experiencing an extraordinary education crisis. These crises include school closures, a demand for online resources for teaching and learning, and an increase in domestic violence, just to name a few. Notwithstanding, education at the different levels was, in 2020, fast-tracked to fully utilise the online platform for the delivery of the curriculum at the various levels.

Online learning, an ongoing activity that forms part of the strategic plan of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MoEYI) in Jamaica, was miraculously realised in a few months by the Government and other stakeholders of the various educational institutions. Despite the short and quick response, there have been pockets of success and invaluable lessons learnt that are being used to drive the ‘new norm’ or practice of education in Jamaica. The curriculum continues to be one of the means of driving this ‘new norm’.

The curriculum is a structured planned document that can be regarded as formal or official document to guide teaching and learning. It serves as guide designed to respond to educational needs and the formation of relationships between the teacher/facilitator and the learner within the institution. Considering that the crises areas mentioned earlier continue to exist and are being treated as priorities in Jamaica, it is not too early for the relevant educational stakeholders to ‘zoom’ in on how COVID-19 has impacted the curriculum at all levels of the education system and to implement a strategic response, especially for online teaching and learning.

The urgency with which strategic plans for education were executed and in this case based on the crises brought on by COVID-19 have triggered a momentum that must be sustained. This is especially so in order to adequately address whatever curriculum modifications (or the process by which changes are made to an existing programme) are deemed necessary for effective teaching and learning. The changes may not only be related to ‘new norm’ topics, scenarios, and popular issues such as those raised in the fourth industrial revolution, for example, the use of artificial intelligence, and a subset of the revolution: science, technology engineering and mathematics or STEM (STEAM) just to name a few. Changes also include areas that should not be overlooked during the modification exercise and these include:

Prioritising of competencies and values. Competencies or a level of knowledge, skills and abilities needed for development and success in work environment and to function effectively in the 21st century, and values which are beliefs that influence how individuals choose to behave that are in line with changes taking place due to the pandemic and total dependence on online learning. The competencies and values along with solidarity, self-directed learning, care for oneself and others, social-emotional skills, health, and resilience cited in COVID-19 Report ECLAC-UNESCO (August, 2020) are applicable to us in Jamaica. This is especially so as core values, for example, respect, discipline, and responsibility of Vision 2030, Jamaica’s national development plan, must be considered and put into practice during the teaching/learning experiences.

Promoting and maintaining academic integrity. Academic integrity perceived as an approach that encourages positive values such as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (International Center for Academic Integrity) are all values that need to be explicitly captured in the curriculum and be intentionally promoted during the teaching and learning at all levels of the education system.

Promoting a culture of academic integrity. The methods of online assessment are critical and must be developed with an aim to discourage a derailment of the values aligned to maintaining academic integrity in the learning environment. As such, teachers/facilitators/instructors should develop and/or select online assessments that are aimed at academic integrity. For example, designing and utilising authentic assessments for learners that emphasise creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving (STEM/STEAM). These assessment instruments must facilitate the learner’s personal reflection on the teaching/learning process, including evaluating the quality of the curriculum and the teaching/learning environment, especially including those engaging the process from home.

Taken seriously, the delivery of the curriculum at the various levels, including online learning, can only serve to enhance teaching and learning and furthering the cause of implementing the strategic plan of the MoEYI in Jamaica. Despite the rapid pace of the implementation of online learning the successes are to be celebrated. At the same time, we cannot afford to overlook the ‘new norm’ or practice of education in Jamaica, and this process is best served with a curriculum which continues to be one of the means of driving this ‘new norm’ as we move towards a transformed society in 2030.

- Denise Minott is an educator and curriculum specialist. Send feedback to dminott577@gmail.com