The country has failed to capitalise on the opportunity presented 25 years ago to make a significant change to teaching methods, a retired principal has said.
Jeff Broomes, the former principal of the Alexandra and Parkinson Memorial Secondary Schools looked back to the EDUTECH programme spearheaded by Prime Minister Mia Mottley when she was education minister in the Owen Arthur administration.
Broomes told the CBC Television programme, The People’s Business: “’I was one of the fortunate people who benefited from the Education Sector Enhancement Programme (EDUTECH) in the 1990s when our current Prime Minister Mia Mottley was Minister of Education, but successive ministers have ‘dropped the ball’.
“Everything we are trying to do now was suggested back then. In 1995 we were pushing the notion of infusing technology into instruction and assessment, but this has fallen along the wayside too. If we had done this back then we would not have these problems now.”
Also appearing on the programme, Principal of the Daryll Jordan Secondary School Stephen Jackman noted that some of the island’s secondary schools had been using the Google Suite for Education for at least four years now, starting with the Ellerslie Secondary School in 2016.
In the case of his St Lucy school, Jackman said: “Since the 2017-2018 academic year, my exam forms have been using it for extra classes and assignments. And when I joined that school in 1999, I got training and I have tried since then to bring more technology into lessons.
“The problem with technology is that it becomes obsolete, so you need to do training and retraining, and I had to create timetables for teachers to be trained in the technology. And I have found once teachers are comfortable with the technology, they will use it.”
Broomes also suggested using locally developed online teaching methods rather than using software from overseas markets which may not be relevant to our situation.
Again referring to his experience with the Edutech venture, he said: “Douglas Corbin, who was the Principal of Ellerslie at the time, and some of the other principals developed a programme that worked well, but the ministry insisted that we use something else.
“I supported what we were doing since it was a homegrown programme, and Mr Corbin was one phone call away if we encountered any issues. Too often we train people to copy things from other places, but we should have a project to develop our own solutions here.
“The COVID-19 environment has highlighted two significant problems in education. It shows clearly that equality has not always been there. There are children who have access, but some don’t even have electricity, some do not know the computers well enough, and some lack parental supervision as parents have challenges as well. I also believe that since there are more radios in homes than computers, we can look at utilising that, let’s call it “radio school” to help others along the way because the computer cannot do it all.”
Jackman concurred that there were inequalities in the education system, noting the Ministry of Education was working on radio and television programmes and that such material was on the ministry’s radio station on 91.3 FM.
He also stressed that children were familiar with social media but did not know enough about other aspects of computer use.
He said: “Some say the current generation are digital natives, but I would prefer to say they are social media natives because now they have to use the same devices to fill out a form it is proving challenging.
“There is a shortfall in terms of accessibility to devices but I am glad to see the ministry is working to correct this.”
“There are many factors that go into preparing a lesson to be delivered online,” said panellist Ian Marshall, Lecturer in Educational Leadership at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, as he emphasised that the online teaching process is more complex than at first glance. “It is not only about pedagogy, which is reformulating an entire course to ensure assessment is included, the teaching tools, the support you will need in the online environment.”
Marshall noted that examinations at UWI Cave Hill have begun online and that the pandemic has been a learning experience for the university.
He said: “When the new semester starts in August, all that we have done in this time of COVID-19 will help us to work towards new ways of doing things, whether we offer courses online-only, classroom only or a mixture of online and classroom instruction. Lots of universities are already online around the world with blended and online programmes and these are available here. There were challenges, but when our students complete their exams this year they will have legitimate certificates.”
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