JIS News

Story Highlights

  • SoSA, a volunteer group of scientists from the island’s three largest universities and in the Diaspora, has been working to advance scientific knowledge among primary and secondary students.
  • They are on a mission to create an atmosphere within which science can flourish to drive development within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.
  • The average score achieved in the science component of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) ranged from 52 per cent to 60 per cent over the period.

The Society for Scientific Advancement (SoSA), a volunteer group of scientists from the island’s three largest universities and in the Diaspora, has been working to advance scientific knowledge among primary and secondary students.

They are on a mission to create an atmosphere within which science can flourish to drive development within Jamaica and the wider Caribbean.

Speaking with JIS News, Programme Development Chair, Dr. Aneisha Collins-Fairclough, says that SoSA’s objective is to “facilitate the actualization of vibrant, cutting-edge scientific research in the Caribbean,” in order to improve regional socio-economic conditions.

According to Dr. Collins-Fairclough, a review of Jamaica’s National Education Inspectorate (NEI) school reports from 2005 to 2010, reveal that the average score achieved in the science component of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) ranged from 52 per cent to 60 per cent over the period.

The reports also show that many primary schools, serving students from poor socio-economic backgrounds, have science grade averages below the national averages and there are a number of secondary schools whose GSAT intake scores are at or below the national level.

“Unfortunately, some of these schools do not enter students for CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) examinations in the pure science subjects of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, hence, the result of this, is that students attending these schools are less likely to study science at an advanced level and are also less likely to pursue a career in science,” she notes.

“This reflects an unfortunate dichotomy in the educational opportunities available to economically disadvantaged young Jamaicans versus those better resourced.  It also contributes to curtailing the explosion of scientific ingenuity that could be achieved in Jamaica to propel our development,” she states.

She says it is the need to expand the scientific literacy of the Jamaican society, which provided the impetus for SoSA to take steps to contribute to an improvement in the performance and participation of Jamaican students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Recently, SoSA launched its major outreach project, the STEM Talent Expansion through the Promotion of Science (STEPS) programme with two workshops at the University of the West Indies (UWI), which were sponsored by the Jamaica National Foundation.

UWI is one of the local universities participating in the project. The others are University of Technology (UTech), University of the West Indies (UWI), and Northern Caribbean University (NCU).

Over 95 primary and secondary students and 14 teachers from August Town Primary, Hope Valley Experimental, Mountain View Primary, Denham Town Primary, St. Francis Primary, Swallowfield Primary and Junior High, Papine High, Jamaica College, Haile Selassie High and Mavis Bank High, participated in the workshops.

Facilitators included Masters and Doctoral students, as well as faculty from local and North American universities.

Dr. Collins-Fairclough says that 70 per cent of workshop space was dedicated to schools that the NEI identified as largely serving students from a low socio-economic background, while the remaining 30 per cent of participants were from schools that are “less constrained”.

“This provided the rare opportunity for students with different levels of scientific exposure to work together and motivate each other,” she points out.

During the workshops, students conducted experiments, such as testing for blood type, extracting Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from fruits, and applying the separation of DNA in forensics to solve crime.

“We are encouraged by the response of the students. Coming out of the post workshop survey, one student wrote on his form ‘honestly I have never considered attending university before, but now I would definitely want to’,” Dr. Collins-Fairclough says.

Also, about 80 per cent of the students mentioned that they would not have considered science before as a career, but after participating in the workshops they see the sciences as an option.

Dr. Collins-Fairclough is appealing for more funding and support for the programme. “We welcome other scientists on board. SoSA now mainly has scientists with a biological background, biotechnologists, who work on stem cells and genetic engineering. We also have a few nanotechnologists and scientists working in other aspects of chemistry, but what we are definitely missing are members who work in the physical sciences,” she says.

She tells JIS News that physicists “would add greater dimension to the range of activities that we provide the students. More funding will allow us to have more students accessing the workshops.”