JIS News

Over the last nine years, primary schools across the island have benefited from the intervention of the Primary Education Support Project (PESP), which seeks to improve the performance, efficiency and equity of the primary education system.
An extensive project, which came to an end last year, PESP has had an impact on every primary school, through the many initiatives that have been embarked.
Making reference to a baseline study, former Project Manager, Miss Jean Hastings, tells JIS News that it has seen some successes in relation to the performance of students within the primary education system.
“The data that was collected in 2000, which is just prior to the start of PESP, showed that at the Grade four level, mastery rate exhibited was somewhere in the region of 42 per cent. When the project ended last year, we were at (about) 65 per cent. So (it) can be inferred from that, that (the project) did make a difference,” she says.
Initiated in January 2001, it was funded by the Government of Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), with support from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). It aimed at supporting the accomplishments of two previous projects focusing on primary education. It also sought to improve the quality of the delivery and management of educational services at the primary level.
More specifically, the project sought to improve performance through the effective implementation of the Revised Primary Curriculum and national assessment standards in schools; increase efficiency through the rationalisation of teacher education and the strengthening of educational management capacity, at all levels; and enhanced equity in the delivery of educational services to children from the lower socio-economic background through targeted interventions for improved literacy, numeracy and attendance.
Miss Hastings points out that the PESP was the third in a series of projects, in partnership with the IDB, dedicated to primary education.
The others were the Primary Education Improvement Projects I and II (PEIP I and PIEP II). The difference between PEIP I and II and PESP is significant because, while the first two programmes developed a number of things, PESP ensured they were sustained within the Ministry of Education.
The Primary Education Support Project had three components: Quality Assurance, that looked at improved educational performance and equity; Institutional Development, which focused on improved sector management and efficiency; and Civil Works, which looked at increased access through school construction, expansion and maintenance.
Due to the wide-ranging nature of the project, the scope of the project was not only limited to the primary level, but also extended to the tertiary level, as evidenced under the Quality Assurance component.
“Although it was a primary project, it also impacted on the tertiary level, because teachers had to come into the system to deliver the new curriculum. It became necessary to revise the Teachers’ College primary curriculum, so that graduates coming to teach at the primary level, would now be very (comfortable) with the kind of curriculum that they would be (using), “Miss Hastings explains.
The former Project Manager, points out that the PEIP II had designed the new curriculum at the primary level, and PESP was asked to ensure that approximately 10,000 teachers were trained in how to deliver that curriculum.
“So our task was to train the teachers to deliver the curriculum in our primary schools, and this was done,” she informs.
She notes also that there had to be a re-alignment of the Grades Three, Four and Six Assessments with the new revised primary curriculum.
“That resulted in a number of initiatives taking place to re-align it. The Grade One in fact was totally re-designed from a Grade One inventory to Grade One Individual Learning Profile, which really collects information on the child that gives you sufficient data to know how to treat with that child, the particular characteristics that the child brings to the school and any issues they may have in accessing learning,” Miss Hastings notes.
She points out also that there was an alignment of the Grade Three Diagnostic, a review of the Grade Four and an alignment of the Grade Six, as well as to match the revised primary curriculum which was being taught in schools.
“Also under the Quality Assurance component, the primary curriculum which was introduced in schools under PESP was new and different, in the sense that Grades One to Three were integrated, the writers of the curriculum created what they called metaphorically a window, which is a period of time where specific instruction would be dedicated to Math and English. Because it is integrated, it means it doesn’t take a subject approach at those Grades. The ‘windows’ gave opportunities for critical focus on those areas,” Miss Hastings notes.
Further, as part of the Quality Assurance component, the PESP was tasked with developing the materials and programmes that would be used to deliver literacy instruction in the Language Arts window of the curriculum at Grades one to three.
Another major bit of work was the development of the Literacy 1-2-3 Programme, which was based on the language experience and awareness approach.
“We engaged writers, artists, and book designers to develop the Literacy 1-2-3 materials,” Miss Hastings told JIS News.
In addition to that, an Instructional Technology initiative was piloted under the Quality Assurance component, to determine how effective it would be to use instructional technology to deliver the curriculum, and thereby improve learning and performance through the use of this technology.
“The Project started out with 15 schools in the pilot using various types of technological equipment. We had desk top computers, lap top computers, digital cameras..various types of technological devices..(that) were used in schools to deliver the curriculum,” she explains.
She added that the pilot was aimed at determining which of the technology devices was the most effective at the primary level. Programmes were used to deliver various aspects of the curriculum.
“It was discovered that the digital camera, which brought the outside world into the classroom, was very effective,” she admitted.
Miss Hastings notes that pictures were taken, and students were encouraged to write stories about the pictures.
“So the digital cameras and the lap top computers were seen as useful, as well as one computer on a trolley going into the classroom and using various programmes to deliver instruction,” she informs.
She notes that, by the end of the project, the process of rolling out the Instructional Technology aspect had already begun, with the initial 15 schools swelling to 72.
“This was actually going beyond the original scope of the programme. The roll out was decided on in order to model a methodology for rolling out to the primary schools in general,” she adds.
Under the Quality Assurance component, text books and supplementary material were provided for some schools.
“This was a very simple activity where supplementary readers were provided to 509 schools. These were to support classroom libraries, storage cabinets to store the books and therefore preserve their life span were also provided,” she discloses.
The Demonstration School concept was also introduced under the project. Primary schools, usually in clusters of three, were partnered with a nearby college. In all, 21 primary schools were aligned with the colleges.
“The idea being that the colleges would offer support in helping to train teachers and provide opportunities for action research. The schools also provided a venue for student teachers to come in to observe more senior teachers delivering the revised curriculum. So there was a symbiotic relationship between the two,” Miss Hastings notes.
She notes that out of that partnership, two volumes of a ‘Journal of Best Practices’, were produced.
“What the Journal of Best Practices really did, was to document best practices in the schools in various areas of the school’s life. Whatever best practices a school had in any area were documented, and so the best practices could be shared with the entire primary system through the journals,” she explains.
She says that another activity under the Quality Assurance component had to do with producing a Strategic Plan for Tertiary Education, and that one of the proposals coming out of this plan was the establishment of a Tertiary Education Commission.
Miss Hastings says that by the end of the project, the Strategic Plan had been produced, with work as well as consultation started in regard to the establishment of a Tertiary Education Commission.
“These bodies of work have been taken up by the Education Transformation Programme for further development and establishment,” she informs.
The Education Transformation Programme, which has synergies with the PESP, is responsible for the execution of the recommendations of the Education Taskforce Report of 2004.
Under the PESP, more than 700 primary school principals were trained in leadership and management, and more than 170 persons in the Ministry of Education’s regional offices and central Ministry were also trained in leadership and management.
The project’s other component, Institutional Development, involved the establishment of an Education Management Information System, by providing databases, and infrastructure upgrade to improve the Ministry’s Management Information System.
“Two such databases were provided and infrastructural development (which involved) electrical upgrade was started. The laying of local area network for introduction of a Ministry intranet was also (initiated). Those were initiated and are continuing under the Ministry with funding support provided by the Education Transformation Programme,” she says.
The Institutional Development component also saw the piloting of a site-based management and governance programme, which looked at ways that schools called ‘Lighthouse Schools’ could be empowered to be more proactive and self sufficient.
“The project worked with schools and trained schools and their teams to develop and finance initiatives to satisfy their own needs. Let’s say they had a need for an additional facility, management teams were trained in how they could, working with their community, engage in fundraising activities, plan and implement projects aimed at satisfying their own needs without being dependent on the Central Ministry or the Government to meet these needs,” Miss Hastings explains.
This project started in 12 Lighthouse Schools and by the end of the PESP, 55 schools were involved, as each of the 12 schools was required to bring on board five other schools.
“They identified their needs, went about raising their own funds, and implementing whatever they thought they needed to do. Some did income-generating programmes, some built facilities, some established computer labs, some introduced literacy programmes to enhance educational outcomes,” the former Project Manager tells JIS News.
Another aspect of the Institutional Development component, she notes, was the Absenteeism Programme which was almost abandoned due to the rescheduling of a loan. “Fortunately the IDB assisted in identifying funds through a grant which the PESP managed,” Miss Hastings shares.
The Absenteeism Programme worked with 100 schools with the lowest attendance rates. The programme identified the root causes which were largely socio-economic. Consultants from the University of the West Indies engaged under that grant programme were to work with the school community to develop various initiatives that would encourage and improve school attendance.
Some of these initiatives were income-earning initiatives because, in a lot of the cases, the children’s families were extremely poor, and could not afford to send them to school regularly, she points out.
“The initiatives that have come out of this include a bakery, a tuck shop, a school feeding programme and school gardening programmes, where they sell the products and proceeds are used to help to feed the children,” she recalls.
“I think, in one case, they bought musical equipment, so that they could raise funds by staging events and use the proceeds to actually keep kids in school, who would not normally attend regularly,” she also informs.
In terms of the remaining component, Civil Works, 12 schools were to be built. Miss Hastings notes that when the programme officially ended, about five remained to be completed.
“They were not completed due largely to fiscal constraints. A supplementary loan was provided by the IDB to complete the schools,” she says.