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KINGSTON — The Ministry of Education's Competency Based Transition Policy (CBTP) is to be tested in September, when students who failed to attain mastery in the Grade 4 Literacy Test, will be placed in the Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP).

As an intervention programme, ASTEP will assist the students with maximum two-year transitional training, to reach the required secondary school level.

The CBTP was introduced in 2009, as part of the Ministry of Education's thrust to raise the literacy level of the school-aged population, according to Coordinator of ASTEP, Novelette Denton-Prince.

The policy also assists in regulating the flow of children from the primary to the secondary level.

"ASTEP will link eligibility for sitting the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to certification in literacy, based on the nationally administered Grade 4 Literacy Test," she explained.

"CBTP is intended to solve a transition problem, which saw over 30 percent of primary school graduates leaving the primary level without the required competencies and, therefore, not ready to access secondary education successfully," she stated.

Under CBTP, no child is allowed to sit GSAT, unless he/she is certified literate. To resolve the problem of those children not certified literate, or the 25-30 per cent of the cohort who sit the Grade Four Literacy Test four times and still are not able to attain mastery, additional support at the secondary level is required. ASTEP was developed to provide the support these students need to access the secondary programme.

Centres will be established in selected Primary, All-age and Primary and Junior High Schools.  Each Centre will have the capacity and resources to appropriately treat with either 20 to 25 students (one group), or 40 to 50 students (two groups).

Selection of centres will be based on availability of space and resources, school leadership, school performance based on national assessments, proximity to neighbouring schools and accessibility to resources.

Students who are placed in the ASTEP centres in year one will be exposed to reading, writing, mathematics, art and craft, drama, music and physical education.

Learning will be enhanced by interactive technologies. After completing the first year, students will transition to select secondary schools, via a special placement mechanism to be determined by the Ministry of Education. Under the arrangement, students will technically repeat Grade Seven.    

Mrs. Denton-Prince noted that teachers are being trained in the use of the curriculum for the programme.

"A monitoring system will be in place, and this will be attached to performance targets, and staff will be accountable to the targets and guidelines", she noted.

Currently, only Mico and Sam Sharpe Teachers' Colleges offer specialist training programmes. The Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Teacher Training (CCETT) has developed a special strategy for training teachers, to treat with children who will require special intervention. This is a preventative initiative to improve reading performance from Grade one to three.            

"There will always be some stigma and, in extreme situations, labels placed on persons who may be 'different' or 'special'. These children are 'different', in that their learning styles are unique and hence the regular classroom situation did not address their need. This programme is designed to provide the appropriate resources, technology and trained personnel to cater to these children's special learning styles," Mrs. Denton-Prince observed.

She said that the ASTEP centres, over time, will be seen as the envy of others who may have needed this special intervention, but were not given the opportunity.

ASTEP Centres will also be established in select high schools. High schools may volunteer or be pre-selected to participate in the programme. Each centre will have a centre manager and students will be mainstreamed for instructions, depending on their area of specialisation.

She noted that, with any new initiative, a minor challenge foreseen is the "buy-in" from the stakeholders. However, she said that the reservations coming from "a few" may be due to a fear of change, which is normal.

"To date the response has been very good but, until we get the total 'buy-in', then we can't boast a 'challenge-free' programme," she said.

She concluded that the programme is a good one but, in order for it to realize continuous success, the participation of parents and community is extremely important.

"The students need all the love, understanding and support they can get from all angles. They are not failures, far from it. They just need additional and different attention to address their needs. This programme is designed for this, but need support from all including the media," she stated.

By Judith Hunter, JIS PRO