JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The curriculum at Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School in St. Elizabeth is being revised to incorporate the delivery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programmes.
  • The transition at the parish’s sole agricultural high school to a more STEM-oriented focus is slated to take effect at the start of the 2014/15 academic year in September.
  • The current agricultural training programme will be maintained for the students advancing to Grades 10 and 11, in September.

The curriculum at Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School in St. Elizabeth is being revised to incorporate the delivery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programmes.

The transition at the parish’s sole agricultural high school to a more STEM-oriented focus, the first such undertaking at the secondary level, is slated to take effect at the start of the 2014/15 academic year in September.

Under the revised format, delivery of STEM instructions will commence with the school’s 120 new students who will enter the institution at Grade Seven, come September, having been successful in the 2014 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).

The current agricultural training programme will be maintained for the students advancing to Grades 10 and 11, in September.

The transition is consistent with the Ministry’s move to formally integrate STEM into Jamaica’s education system, at the primary and secondary levels.

The Ministry’s Director for Region Five, which includes St. Elizabeth, Dr.  Nadine Leachman assures that the change will not see Sydney Pagon High School being changed from an agricultural institution to an exclusive STEM academy.

“That’s not the idea. Agriculture is going to be offered using the (problem-solving, project-based) STEM approach. There will be integration of all these discrete areas – the sciences, mathematics, (and) technology ….into the subjects that we are teaching so that (students) take a more wholesome approach to learning. More importantly, the curriculum is market and industry-demand driven, thereby preparing students for the world of work,” the Regional Director explains.

The transition also forms part of the Education Ministry’s move to alleviate the shortage of classroom spaces at the secondary level in St Elizabeth.

“That way, we can accommodate more students in that institution, giving more youngsters the quality space that they deserve. It is going to start from Grade Seven, as against a Grade Nine programme that now exists in the institution. In starting at Grade Seven, our aim is to give those students that are performing at a high level, the preparation (they need to advance their educational development),” Dr. Leachman outlines.

Meanwhile, preparations for the transition are currently well underway by the school’s administration, as they work to meet the September timeline.

Activities being undertaken include: upgrading existing facilities and installing ones, such as smart boards, laboratories, and audio-visual equipment.

Teams from the Ministry have also been working with school’s administration, staff, and students, as well as external stakeholders, such as parents, to assist in their preparation and readiness for the transition.

Among the engagements they have been undertaking are sensitization fora and training workshops staged by the Regional Office’s Community Relations Unit.

The overall preparations are being undertaken following a Ministry audit conducted at the school to determine the interventions and inputs necessary to facilitate the transition.

Principal, Blansford Henry, in welcoming the undertaking, tells JIS News that the STEM concept has been successfully implemented in countries such as Japan, Israel, the United States, and United Kingdom, to prepare students for “jobs of the future.”

According to Mr. Henry, the concept is student-centred, project-based, and problem-solving learning, with teachers performing as facilitators.

He advises that although students currently enrolled will not participate directly in the STEM programme, assures that they will benefit significantly from the school’s upgraded facilities.

Regarding the general response to the transition, Mr. Henry points out that “persons are always apprehensive about change.”  He adds that “nonetheless, it is how (the change) is being managed (that makes the difference).”

“The Ministry of Education is providing the requisite support to ensure that the staff is fully prepared and the students are equipped with the right information to allay the fears they might have,” he informs.

Ministry representatives, led by Dr. Leachman, have, among other things, been meeting with the parents and guardians of students at primary schools in the parish from which GSAT entrants will be drawn.

Founded 35 years ago, the Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School was formerly known Elim Agricultural School. It was renamed after late St. Elizabeth parliamentarian, Sydney Pagon, in 2005.

Over the years, its reputation as an outstanding institution grew, as successive administrations undertook a range self-sustaining agricultural programmes.

These include: livestock rearing, from which provisions such as meat and eggs were supplied across St. Elizabeth.

The institution’s technical infrastructure is being further enhanced with the construction of a processing plant, currently being constructed, to produce cassava for supply to the local baking industry. This engagement forms part of a partnership involving the University of the West Indies (UWI).

It is also part of a bigger partnership involving the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium to Support Cassava Research and Development of Colombia, to conduct research on cassava production and processing.

The school is a beneficiary of the Centre of Excellence for Advanced Technology in Agriculture (CEATA), which has facilitated the construction of a greenhouse to enable fruit and vegetable research and development.

That project is funded by the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation for Development.