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Education Minister, Hon. Andrew Holness, has announced that a National Commission on Mathematics is to be established soon.
Speaking at a press conference at Jamaica House on May 3, Mr. Holness informed that the National Council on Education (NCE), an advisory body on education, will be charged with assembling the Commission.
“What we will be charging the NCE to do is to look islandwide at all the resources that we have, all the technical resources, all the teaching resources, and select a representative group, and that body will become the National Commission on Mathematics,” he said.
The Minister further informed that the Commission, which will have a defined life-span, will be provided with terms of reference, “and we will expect it to report to us on the strategies, systems, and methodologies that we should employ in coming to grips with our math problems.”
He said it is expected that the terms of reference and the names of the members of the Commission will be announced by the end of the month.
The decision to establish this body, follows the published results of the Grade Four Literacy Test, which showed that many students performed poorly.
The Minister noted that though the problem has been identified, it is necessary to determine what the causes are. “Is it just the teachers, is it something cultural, is it something psycho-social?,” he questioned.
“We have been doing Math, but our education system was never historically universal, and we always had a system that filtered the best. Now we have a system of universal primary education, where all our students are being tested and bench-marked against each other,” he noted.
He pointed out that it is for this reason that the Government established the Grade Four Numeracy Test, as part of a benchmark examination. “It is not a placement exam, nor is it an achievement test. It is more used to determine the state of readiness of the child and to help in diagnosing problems and developing teaching strategies,” the Minister explained.
Stressing the importance of having mastery in Mathematics, Mr. Holness said that being numerate, being able to compute and to manipulate data in modern society is a critical function that determines whether or not one can develop in a cognitive way and contribute in a meaningful way to the society.
“So, what we are now doing, is to once and for all, figure out what are all the variables that affect the performance of all our students. For many years, we have not paid the level of attention strategically, to the development of Math skills, particularly at the foundation level, at primary school, and early childhood. But we have acted with alarm sometimes, we have been reactionary. But for the first time, I think we are now in a position where we have placed a plan strategically to the nation,” he said.
This plan, he noted, started with the release of the Grade Four Numeracy Test results. “So, what we have decided to do, is to give the public information, real information, empirical data on which they can discuss the problem. It was intended to give empirical data to start the bench-marking process, to give voice to all the stakeholders and to start Jamaica thinking about how we can solve our Math problems,” the Minister said.
Highlighting one particular finding that he was “deeply worried” about, the Minister pointed out that the data shows that boys are at a significant disadvantage in some areas of Grade Four Numeracy.
“It shows also, that whilst the private schools manage to attain 77 per cent, if you were to compare that to what they attained or achieved in the literary test, they achieved 97 per cent in the literacy test. It shows clearly, that there is a general problem, even where we have resources available. There is a general problem with Mathematics in the country,” he said.
The Minister said going forward, there are plans to do more development work, noting that work has already been done in developing a curriculum, the test, and putting in place numeracy specialists, coaches and teachers.