There is a wind of change blowing through the education system and it is being led by a number of stalwart and dedicated educators with an eye for excellence and forward thinking.
Teachers at a number of primary schools throughout the island are working smarter by using familiar teaching methods in a new setting to reap tangible results.
The educators are achieving these results through the Enrichment Resource Centre Initiative, which was officially launched in 2009 by the Ministry of Education.
Enrichment Centres are resource rooms with computers, interactive whiteboards, literacy and numeracy software and other teaching aids. But the programme offers much more than that.
Manager of the Enrichment Resource Centre at the Melrose Primary and Junior High School in St. Andrew, Roxanne Malcolm, assists a student with his reading during a 45-minute work session at the school on Monday (September 20).
Part of the Ministry’s initiative to achieve 100 per cent literacy at the primary school level by 2015, the programme seeks to improve and enrich academic intervention for low-functioning students through a more individualised approach by teachers, as well as through the use of modern teaching aids.
Teachers are armed with traditional teaching skills and new technology to assist them in making the literacy and numeracy classes more appealing to the students. Much of the resources utilised at the centres are donated by the Digicel Foundation of Jamaica, which has come on board to assist in the Ministry’s literacy drive.
According to Special Education Co-ordinator, Education Transformation Project at the Ministry of Education, Dr. Michele Meredith, the project allows teachers to focus on the student’s individual needs.
In other words, teachers are now able to take students outside of the regular classroom setting and to teach them based on their unique learning requirement rather than as part of an entire class.
Principal of the Melrose Primary and Junior High School in St. Andrew, Jennifer Lee, interacts with students at the school as she makes a routine visit to a grade seven class on Monday (September 20).
According to educators at three of the 12 schools selected to host Enrichment Centres, the programme is so far, a success.
Manager of the Enrichment Resource Centre at Waterford Primary in Portmore, St. Catherine, Jasneth Myers, explains to JIS News that the centre, which has been at the school for the past year, has been bearing “remarkable fruit.”
Mrs. Myers, who has a Bachelor’s degree in literacy, informs that for the academic year 2009/2010, some 88 students, from grades three to five, participated in the programme, of that number 41 were reading below the primary school level. At the end of the school year, only six of those students did not show drastic improvement, she says.
“In my group last year, I worked with 25 grade two students, who were regarded as non-starters, meaning that they were only able to identify a few letters and give a few letter sounds and possibly spell a few words like boy and girl,” she notes.
Assistant Manager of the Enrichment Resource Centre at the Melrose Primary and Junior High School in St. Andrew, Gloria-Mae Bailey, uses a teaching aid to make a vocabulary lesson more exciting for student, Ashanti Beckford, on Monday (September 20).
“At the end of the year, only two of them remained as non-starters, the others excelled and some of them were even at a level three, meaning that they were reading at a grade three level,” Mrs. Myers informs.
The literacy expert explains that part of the success of the Enrichment Centre lies in the fact that the teacher is able to focus on a limited number of students at any given time.
The Ministry stipulates that no more than 15 students should make up each group that visits the centre during the week. The students are guided by two teachers during 35 to 45-minute sessions, three days a week.
Teachers at the Melrose Primary and Junior High School in St. Andrew, also have high praises for the programme, describing it as a “blessing” and a “breakthrough” for education in Jamaica.
Principal Jennifer Lee, says the Enrichment Centre is a valuable asset to the school. “It helps to make our job much easier, because we have a number of children who are performing below the required level, who need additional work, and as part of the strategy we are able to do a pullout from the regular class to give individualised attention,” she explains.
Mrs. Lee notes that early intervention is critical in ensuring that those who are performing below their grade and age levels are not left behind.
“We are doing the intervention very early in the primary department – grade three, grade four – where we can catch them before they go into grade five and grade six and preparing for the GSAT (Grade Six Achievement Test),” she adds.
“We have resources here that help to develop the child’s reasoning skills, particularly in Mathematics. We also have the technology to help them with the reading, increase their vocabulary, increase sight words and working on their comprehension skills,” Mrs. Lee tells JIS.
She explains that one of the main strategies the teachers use is to get to know the child’s particular learning style in order to have a greater impact.
Manager of the Centre at Melrose Primary, Roxanne Malcolm, says data shows that the students are responding favourably to the programme. She informs that of the 122 students that participated in the project last school year, from grades three to seven, some 85 per cent showed remarkable improvement.
Miss Malcolm cites one particular student from grade three, who entered the programme at the non-starter level and, by the end of the year, was performing at a grade six level.
“We realised the potential was always there, we didn’t work any miracles, he just needed the guidance to help him focus,” Miss Malcolm says, noting that the strength of the programme lies in the ability of educators to pick up on the special needs of students, who are then given the required attention to be able to accomplish exceptional results.
She contends that students, given the right environment, can excel. “Many of them are not encouraged at home, they are not given the required attention and guidance from their parents,” she points out.
Miss Malcolm lauds the programme as a prime example of how teaching should be done on a whole. “To call this programme good is an understatement. It’s a blessing; It’s an excellent programme,” she says.
She calls for it to be extended throughout the education system, with each primary school accommodating at least one Enrichment Centre.
“However, if we don’t have the resources to do this now, I do hope that more teachers will take it upon themselves to plan their lessons not on a wholesale basis, but will consider the different learning styles of the students that they have and the different levels at which the students are performing and then from there, create a lesson that caters to each of these learning styles and the varying levels,” she recommends.