Minister of Education, Hon. the Rev. Ronald Thwaites, says for the education system to further flourish and develop, it is critical that stakeholders begin to look beyond the traditional methods of teaching to effectively engage students.
“What is quite clear, as we look across the educational enterprise in the world and in Jamaica, is that we have to device new ways to engage our students. The minds of our young people are far advanced and far changed from the traditional measures,” he argued.
The Minister was speaking at the launch of EduFocal Ltd., at the Pegasus Hotel, in New Kingston, on March 15.
EduFocal, which is the creation of 21-year-old Gordon Swaby, is an interactive learning community, aimed at assisting students to become better prepared for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) exams, using the popular role-playing games (RPG).
Rev. Thwaites gave his full endorsement of the programme, noting that the use of technology and games have become quite effective in attracting the imagination and the enterprise of students.
“One of the difficulties we have in early childhood education in Jamaica is that so many of our well intentioned teachers are intent on having our little children recite the times table and demanding that they ‘read the book,’ when they really shouldn’t be doing that, as that’s not the effective way of teaching them,” he said.
“The effective way of teaching them is to teach them how to play, how to recognise things, how to become critical to their approach in the box in front of them, or whatever device is being used,” the Minister added.
He said it has therefore been well-developed in many different arenas how significant games can be in fostering holistic education.
The Minister argued that both the government and private individuals are spending too much money on remedial education, rather than making good use of the tools that are presently at their fingers tips.
“The estimate is that we are spending $20 billion a year on remedial education, both the state and private individuals,” he said. “If there was one kind of extra lesson I would strongly promote is something like EduFocal, which is going to open up an entirely new vista for many students who have difficulties with the ordinary ‘warp and woof’ of the classroom,” he added.
Rev. Thwaites said the Ministry is now in the process of reviewing the recently launched Alternative Secondary Transition Education Programme (ASTEP), to garner insights on its effectiveness.
“What we have seen so far is that it is not so much that many of the students are dumb or have deficiencies, but rather that they are simply not mentally disposed towards the kind of teaching, the methodology of teaching that is presented to them. And, the net effect is that they lose interest or they can’t comprehend and then unfortunately we brand them or we place in the ‘D’ class or we put them in odd programmes or spend heavily on remedial education,” he said.
The Minister argued that despite the challenges in the education system, Jamaica has many proud accomplishments.
“When one compares our education system to other societies, perhaps even wealthier than ours, we realise we have done very well. We have a place for every child in pre-primary, and in primary; we’re about 85 per cent coverage in the secondary education cohort, and we’re above 30 per cent in our tertiary education cohort,” Rev. Thwaites informed.
Meanwhile, Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Julian Robinson, said the creation of EduFocal illustrates that there are many talented young people in Jamaica with worthwhile ideas, who are just seeking an opportunity to translate those ideas into commercial products.
Mr. Robinson assured that the government is committed to providing the avenues and infrastructure for more bright and young Jamaicans to come forward. “It is sad when too many of the applications, too many of the solutions to our problems come from abroad, when we have so many youngsters in Jamaica who have the capability to produce the solutions themselves,” he emphasised.
Creator of EduFocal, Gordon Swaby, explained that the interactive learning community will offer preparatory questions for the GSAT and CSEC programmes, presented in a manner akin to popular role-playing games (RPG).
RPGsare games in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development.
He informed that as students go through and complete the questions on EduFocal’s website, they will be rewarded with experience points which allow them to ‘level up’. The more experience points students get and the higher up in levels they go, they will be able to unlock rewards from EduFocal.
The questions presented to students will be prepared by qualified educators in the various subject areas, including English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, History, Geography, Information Technology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Social Studies. These educators will be paid through a pool of funds set up specifically to remunerate them.
Students can access the EduFocal website at: www.edufocal.com at a cost of $200 per month or $2,000 per year.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter