Government is moving full steam ahead with sweeping education reforms that could see the abolition of the Common Entrance exam, the establishment of middle schools, contracts for principals and a more focused approach to the study of new technologies.
In fact, Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training Santia Bradshaw on Wednesday revealed that with an ease in the country’s pandemic situation, Director of Education Reform, Dr Idamay Denny would soon begin the process along with numerous key stakeholders.
“All of those things are on the table and we wanted to have face-to-face discussions, talking to the country about the various proposals, but all of that had to be shelved because of COVID and all that people have been dealing with,” Bradshaw told Barbados TODAY.
“But now things have eased to some extent, Dr. Denny and the team can now start to flesh out exactly how we will address the reforms in the system, so that again, coding and robotics can play a greater role in the curriculum, things like STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] education wouldn’t just be buzz words anymore, but actually that you would have teachers teaching not just for exams, but applying the concepts that are taught at the training college within the classroom,” she added.
The education minister was responding to questions after announcing the arrival of 1,128 robotics kits. They will be used in the computer coding and robotics programmes commencing in schools in September. This move, according to Bradshaw, represents the start of “gradual reforms”.
“People tend to focus and speak to 11-plus alone, but the reforms are not just about the 11-plus. It’s curriculum, it’s teacher training and you will see that I have brought the Erdiston Teachers’ Training College under the arm of the ministry because teacher training is critical to transforming education,” Bradshaw declared.
“If we get that wrong and we don’t retrain principals and we don’t even go in the direction that we have been talking about – you know, principals on contract and looking at performance-based leadership – then we are not going to achieve a number of the reforms that we need in education,” she added.
The computer coding and robotics initiative is intended to improve student engagement while preparing them to become future developers of technology in a job market that is increasingly dependent on technological expertise.
Last year, more than 140 teachers were trained and 2600 students participated in a related pilot project. Then, in March, Cabinet agreed to purchase 4,782 additional robotic kits providing access to more than 16,000 students to the tune of $2.7 million.
“I just want to make the point that while there are some naysayers who believe that the Ministry of Education has only been focused on the pandemic and soliciting the devices for students to do online teaching, I think the point being made here this morning is that we have been working very hard behind the scenes to prepare for that post-pandemic period,” Bradshaw declared in her opening remarks.
“We have been trying to acquire the kits, trying to make sure that we put in place all of the necessary systems, so that when that time comes where we are able to get a bit of an ease in the educational system and certainly the healthcare issues that the country is facing, that we are ready for the reforms that are necessary.
“It is imperative that the education system prepares them to not only manipulate and utilise the technology, but more importantly, to participate in the development of the technology,” she added.
Dr Denny meanwhile said she is “very excited” about the programme, particularly for its role in engaging those students who are currently disengaged.
“We need to find things that are going to engage our students. We need to find things that are going to hold their interest, things that are going to make them say, rather than go and create some mayhem at lunchtime, I want to go into that room and play with those things,” Dr. Denny declared.
“This programme is a programme that will cause our children to think in that kind of way,” she added.