|Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness (left) raps with students of the All Saints Basic School during the school’s official opening ceremony at Booby Drive in Olympic Gardens in Kingston on January 29.|
Measures to improve reading and writing took centre stage last year as the Ministry of Education (MoE) implemented projects and programmes aimed at achieving its target of 100 per cent literacy by year 2010.
From as early as January, Portfolio Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness signalled his intention to tackle the troubling issue of literacy, announcing the implementation of a new competence-based policy, which will ensure that every child progressing to secondary school is literate.
The policy places emphasis on the Grade Four Literacy Test, rather than the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) with the targeted support and interventions put in place, including engaging the services of literacy specialists, training teachers in literacy strategies, and screening children entering grade one to ensure early detection and treatment of those with special needs.
The aim is to ensure that no child leaves primary school without being able to read. "Literacy is now the critical benchmark for transitioning from primary to the secondary level,” said Minister Holness.
During the two-year period until grade six, each child will have four opportunities to pass the test and they must be certified as having achieved mastery before they are allowed to take GSAT.
The revamped Literacy Test was held in June and for the first time, was administered as a national examination, similar to GSAT.
When the results came out in August, it was that revealed that 71 per cent of the 46,663 children in public and private schools achieved mastery in the three areas of the test – word recognition, reading comprehension and writing. The result was about the same as in 2008, but was an improvement over the 47 per cent in 2000; 57 per cent in 2004; and 65 per cent in 2006.
Teachers said they were encouraged by the results, given that it was the first time that it was being held under national exam conditions and parents were showing much more interest in their children’s school work.
In the wake of the results, Mr. Holness announced the roll-out of an accountability model , which will ensure the best possible results from each school. The model comprises a three-year cycle, which involves giving schools the necessary support for improvement in year one; a warning in the second year for underperformance; and in the third year, schools that are not performing will have to account for this.
"It may mean separation or it may mean that the persons who are responsible for the delivery of literacy will have to engage in further development, but it is more likely that teachers and principals who do not perform, will be held accountable," he said.
To further complement the literacy thrust, the MoE developed a diagnostic tool to assess the reading levels of students up to grade nine. The number of literacy and numeracy specialists also increased, to 80 literacy coaches up from 50, and 70 numeracy coaches up from 45.
Telecommunications giants, Digicel, also came to the assistance of the Ministry through its Enrichment Centre Project, with resource rooms, equipped with technology to enhance the literacy and numeracy skills of students, established in some 12 primary schools across the island at a cost of $33.6 million.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also agreed to support the development of literacy in Jamaica through a new project which will assist 200 low performing schools.
Minister Holness, last year, launched a review of GSAT to determine its suitability as a good placement mechanism for students in secondary schools.
The review comes as the results of a preliminary study shows that the examination, which is now in its 10th year, was not adequately meeting the demands of the nation's changing education sector.
Project Manager of the GSAT Review Committee, Miss Jean Hastings, explained that the review is geared towards finding solutions to move forward. She said there have been concerns about the exam itself, the curriculum on which the exam is based, and the placement of children.
|Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, receives the signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for US$1.8 million, from the Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. Karen Hilliard, in February at the United States Embassy in Kingston. The money was used to help rehabilitate 40 schools that were affected by Tropical Storm Gustav in the parishes of St. Mary, Portland, St. Thomas and St. Andrew.|
“There is really a very high demand for a cluster of schools that are perceived as the top performing schools”, she noted, informing that a framework will be developed to better address the issue of placement in the future.
"We are going to develop a framework to guide the School Improvement Act, which will really address the issue of placement and trying to find quality, and we are looking at quality in terms of the physical space, the resources, the equipment and the level of instruction that is provided, so that we can change the perception," Miss Hastings told JIS News. She said the report will be submitted to Cabinet for approval.
As the crime facing the nation continued to spill over into the schools, the position of dean of discipline was created to relieve school administrators and teachers of the task of dealing with disciplinary matters and develop a sustainable framework for maintaining discipline in schools.
The MoE also partnered with Peace and Love in Society (PALS) to kick start the implementation of a five-year behaviour modification programme to reduce anti-social and disruptive behaviours. The Ministry provided $7 million for the first phase of the project, which ran from May to December, and involved 90 primary and junior high schools, and 12 high schools, representing the first time that PALS was extending its programme to the secondary level.
In the meantime, approximately 64 schools were set to receive security fencing at a cost of $429.7 million during the academic year, with the overall plan being to fence all schools. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entitled ‘Creating and Maintaining Peaceable Schools’ was also reviewed for signing.
Parent Month was celebrated in November under the theme: ‘Parent the Right Way: Read with your child every day’. Various fora were held across the island where parents were urged to read to their children from an early age.
Three publications, which look at parenting in Jamaica and its role in national development, were also launched during Parent Month. The publications are entitled: ‘Parenting in Jamaica’ by Dr. Heather Ricketts and Professor Patricia Anderson; ‘The Changing Roles of Fathers in Jamaican Family Life’ by Professor Patricia Anderson; and ‘Parental Involvement in Education in Jamaica’ by Dr. Grace-Camille Munroe.
It was also disclosed that the National Parenting Support Commission (NPSC) has been drafted and is now awaiting policy direction.
Despite budget constraints, at least 2,000 new school spaces were made available for the new academic year, which commenced on September 7.
A new high school, Belmont Academy in Westmoreland, came on stream for the school year, offering 900 spaces. Paul Bogle High in St. Thomas, Carron Hall High School in St. Mary, and Lewisville High School, in St. Elizabeth were all expanded from 450 to 900 spaces.
|Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness (left), accepts a cheque, valued at $33.6 million, from the Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation, Major General Robert Neish (right), at the Alhambra Inn in Kingston in February. The money will go towards the Enrichment Centre Project. Also participating in the ceremony are: Principal of the Lyssons Primary School, a beneficiary of the donation, Mrs. Ena Barclay (centre) and Administrator at the Digicel Foundation, Elleen Rankine.|
The Ministry also signed a MoU with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for US$1.8 million to assist the Tropical Storm Gustav rehabilitation effort for schools that were damaged during the storm, which occurred in 2008.
In addition, close to $930 million was spent acquire approved textbooks for the academic year, with $370.2 million at the primary level and $559.60 million for secondary students.
The Ministry provided education grants for students at all levels of the education system last year.
Minister Holness said that come next year, law students in Barbados, who have a first degree or are receiving other Government benefits, would not qualify for these grants, while the grants for students sitting the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects this year, would become performance based.
On the note of Government payments, teachers were also assured that they would be paid what is owed to them, beginning in April 2010.
The transformation of the education sector is an ongoing process and the National Education Inspectorate started the inspection of the education system with primary and secondary schools in September.
Chief Inspector of Education, Elaine Foster-Allen explained that the inspections will be phased over a three-year period.
Minister also pointed out that teachers are to benefit from the Jamaica Educational Leadership Academy (JELA) as part of this transformation effort.