Feature
National Mathematics Coordinator, Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and Chair for the Primary Specialist Teacher Model Oversight Committee, Dr Tamika Benjamin (second left), addresses recent JIS ‘Think Tank’. With her (from left) are Principal of Bethel Primary and Junior High in Hanover, Jasmine Beckford Johnson; Senior Education Officer in the Primary Unit for Region Six, Floyd Kelly; and Principal of Savanna-la-Mar Primary School in Westmoreland, Megan Berry.
Photo: Dave Reid

Story Highlights

  • The performance of students at the primary level should be significantly improved with the implementation of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Specialist Teacher Model.
  • This model requires schools to identify teachers who will function as specialists for mathematics, language, science and social studies. Implementation of the programme is being coordinated by an Oversight Committee, comprising senior education officers from the six regions, primary school principals, curriculum specialists, representatives from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and other stakeholders.
  • National Mathematics Coordinator in the Ministry and Chair for the Primary Specialist Teacher Model Oversight Committee, Dr. Tamika Benjamin, tells JIS News that the specialist approach is being widely used in several countries, including Singapore, Finland, China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The performance of students at the primary level should be significantly improved with the implementation of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Specialist Teacher Model.

This model requires schools to identify teachers who will function as specialists for mathematics, language, science and social studies. Implementation of the programme is being coordinated by an Oversight Committee, comprising senior education officers from the six regions, primary school principals, curriculum specialists, representatives from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) and other stakeholders.

National Mathematics Coordinator in the Ministry and Chair for the Primary Specialist Teacher Model Oversight Committee, Dr. Tamika Benjamin, tells JIS News that the specialist approach is being widely used in several countries, including Singapore, Finland, China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

She says the process for exploring the specialist model began in 2014 after a delegation from the Ministry visited Singapore and observed this model being used at the primary level of their education system.

Dr. Benjamin points out that initially, the specialist model strategy was to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics and language. However, after a series of consultations with principals and teachers at the primary and secondary levels, representatives of the JTA and teacher-training institutions, a decision was taken to expand the approach to include science and social studies.

The specialist approach has been known to offer several advantages, including the most cost-effective in-service training, professional development focused on specialist areas, more students are able to benefit from high-quality instructions, and schools and the education system are better able to capitalise on the strengths of teachers.

Dr. Benjamin points out that implementation of the specialist model was approved in 2016. However, recognising that implementation would require a strategic approach, the Ministry took the decision to start the programme under a pilot in 39 schools in September 2017.

Principal of the Savanna-la-Mar Primary School in Westmoreland, Megan Berry, tells JIS News that her school, one of the institutions in the pilot programme, has benefited significantly from this type of intervention.

“As one of the largest primary schools in the parish, the impact of the specialist approach to teaching and learning has been great. The students have responded in a positive way and the teachers, especially those who teach mathematics, are elated about having this programme on board at their school,” she says. Meanwhile, Jasmine Beckford Johnson, Principal of Bethel Primary and Junior High School in Hanover, says hers teachers did not hesitate to take on the challenge to be part of the pilot programme.

“Since the implementation in 2017, we have been seeing some positive things happening in our school. Our teachers are excited about writing lesson plans, because they are now teaching an area that they love. For example, if you love maths, you are going to give it your all,” she says.

Ms. Beckford Johnson points out that her school has its own monitoring tool. A specialist coordinating team and data analyst team have been created to monitor students’ performance since the implementation of this specialist model.

In the meantime, Dr. Benjamin tells JIS News that it is too early in the programme to say how it has impacted students; however, a system is in place to collect data from the schools to monitor students’ performance.

“We have set up a model where there are some matching control schools, and so we have developed standardised tests that are being administered in the pilot and control schools at the end of each term, and data will be collected over time before the Ministry can determine the impact on performance,” she says.

Senior Education Officer in the Primary Unit for Region Six, Floyd Kelly, says that Education Officers are working closely with the schools and stakeholders to ensure that there is a coordinated approach to the implementation of the programme. In preparation for the implementation of the Specialist Teacher Model programme, the Ministry ensures that school Board Chairs, principals and teachers are sensitised about the model, and principals and teachers are trained to manage the transition. Dr. Benjamin says that implementing the model does not mean that schools will get new teachers, what it means is that the principals are going to work with staff to decide who will function in which area of specialisation.

However, teacher-training institutions will eventually begin to graduate teachers aligned to the various specialisations, and this will ensure that principals can objectively determine who will function as a specialist teacher. The Ministry is now taking steps to fully roll out the model across the entire education system, and this will be done in three additional phases. Two hundred and thirty schools will transition to the use of the model, beginning with the preliminary phase in 2019.

This will mirror the approach used in the pilot, with a year of preparation. This includes sensitisation sessions, administration of the redeployment toolkits, and the training of principals and teachers.

In 2020, the model will be implemented in terms of curriculum delivery; an additional 230 schools will start their transition, and in 2021, the final 230 schools will start their preliminary year for full roll-out in 2022 across the system.