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Story Highlights

  • The project provided support to the Education Transformation Programme in 250 primary schools in its first two years.
  • The initiative is consistent with the Government’s 2013/14 priority focus on human capital development.
  • The USAID/GOJ project empowers principals and teachers with the necessary strategies and resources.

The Ministry of Education remains steadfast in its efforts to achieve quality education through the transformation of the sector, using a number of non-traditional tools and measures.

To this end, the Ministry recently took over the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Jamaica Basic Education Project (JBEP), which was previously implemented and managed by United States (US) Contractor, Juarez and Associates, Inc.

The project, which began in 2010, provided support to the Education Transformation Programme in 250 primary schools in its first two years, and in its third year, aided the Ministry with improving the reading skills at Grades 1-3 in 172 schools across Regions 1, 4 and 6.

Steered by a team headed by Project Director, Dr. Jean Beaumont, the JBEP expands on the previous Expanding Educational Horizons and New Horizons for Primary School projects, as well as best practices from the Caribbean Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training.

The initiative is consistent with the Government’s 2013/14 priority focus on human capital development in the area of education.

Addressing the recent symbolic handing over ceremony, at the Jamaica Conference Centre, Minister of Education, Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites, said there is a “new wave” of effort and understanding regarding how education must be imparted.

The first three years of the project was to help schools to manage responsibilities of accountability; introduce practices and materials which enhance reading progress; and contribute to an increase in early grade reading fluency from Grades 1 to 3.

The USAID/GOJ project empowers principals and teachers with the necessary strategies and resources; establishes and reinforces standards for teacher and principal accountability; support personnel in the education regions to pass down transformation practices in non-project schools in those regions; and work with the Jamaica Teaching Council, to train and provide technical assistance.

The resources created from the project were accessible to all schools, not just those involved in the JBEP.

These include: reading assessment checklist for Grades 1-3; reading standards and benchmark for Grades 1-3; checklist for principals to monitor the use of these standards; procedures for successfully managing and supervising the reading programme; strategies for effective teaching of reading comprehension; and tools for continuous reading assessment and a manual.

Technology resources for the 172-project schools include: desktop computers (in some schools), laptops, multi-media projectors, digital cameras, and the Jamaica School Administrative System (JSAS), which are available to all schools.

Dr. Beaumont explains that the project was mandated to develop remedial instruction for Grade Three teachers, which resulted in Camp Summer Plus workshops  over the past three years.

Using their JSAS portals, administrators and teachers were able to tell how many classes were at each site, how many students were enrolled, and the number of staff involved. Some 900 students were tracked and reports provided for seven camps in 2012.

For 2013, Camp Summer Plus participants were trained in data analysis and interpretation with emphasis on the implications of their findings for instruction, based on the outcomes of the 2012 camp. The participants were also introduced to areas that needed special attention.

Thirteen Reading Coaches were engaged in 33 project schools, across three regions, and were working with the students in the specified grades to help improve instructional practices in reading.

Meanwhile, Principals were assisted with improving supervisory and management skills in teaching how to read. These practical interventions saw coaches hosting school-based reading workshops, co-teaching, demonstrating reading strategies; monitoring schools reading programmes; and interpreting information to guide instruction.

The reading coaches also helped schools to make better use of the reading standards developed by the project. Reading modules and handbooks were distributed to guide early grade reading.

Additionally, teachers and principals were trained in the use of the Ministry of Education/USAID’s electronic database (JSAS). The system helps to minimize the time teachers allocate to administrative duties, to enable more time for teaching. It stores and generates reports involving school personnel (board, staff, students), school plant  attendance and grade. More than 170 educators were trained to use the system.

Rev. Thwaites says with the continued use of reading coaches and peer trainers, the reading progamme is being extended into more schools.

He urges principals to ask for the assistance they need. “It is not a shame to say that you need help; that your students require more than you can give,” the Minister adds.

Dr. Beaumont describes the project as having been “an extraordinary learning experience,” noting that, “the consistent improvement in students’ performance levels has proven that we must persevere.”