ICT Conference 2003
Transforming The Education System For The 21st Century
Making the necessary changes to the education system to meet the changing needs of the 21st Century: The Jamaican Experience.
Presenter: Mr Wesley Barrett, CEO
Ministry of Education Youth and Culture
Jamaica, W. I.
The developments in information and communication technology have leapt beyond what was thought possible five years ago and astonishing advances in this epochal human creation of the 21st century are continuing. Information and communication technology has profoundly affected every major industry and area of human activity including government, security, health, banking, transportation, entertainment, manufacturing, commerce, aviation and economics. However, the greatest potential for development lies in education, which spawns human resource, social and economic development. Of course, human resource development as well as social and economic development is perhaps the single most pursued goal (or it should be) of countries everywhere.
Information and communication technology, is undoubtedly the most effective means of rapidly distributing knowledge and information, the core of education, to educationally poor and starved communities and countries. This makes it a major tool in making changes of content and methodology in education swiftly. In this regard the changes can be made to meet changing educational and training needs to respond to globalisation and the knowledge driven society.
Information and communication technology as a tool in education is not only necessary but also indispensable to respond to present and future needs. In the context of the topic "Making the necessary changes to the Educational System in meeting the changes of the 21st century", it is most appropriate to reflect on the role of information and communication technology in this regard.
Before I share some reflections on the topic it may be well to make a few fundamental observations. The first is that schools and the education system are first and foremost about learning. Of course, teaching facilitates learning and may be done on site or at a distance. Teaching is secondary to learning. The main factors or skills contributing to learning remain listening, speaking, reading, thinking, seeing, doing, problem posing, problem solving and experiences. Information and communication technology greatly enhances learning, which incidentally takes place in the learner. How it enhances learning will be alluded to later. Secondly information and communication technology won't be a panacea for solving attainment and learning problems of students, but it will be a major positive force in that regard. Administrators, teachers, students and other stakeholders must with almost one accord acknowledge the power of information and communication technology in greatly accelerating the development of students as learners. Indeed the teacher armed with this tool must be placed at the centre of the delivery or learner-enabling system of education. The teacher, not the technology, will be key in facilitating and enabling learners to achieve learning objectives. This implies at once that the teacher's role will tend to the far right of the instructor-facilitator continuum. But this will only happen with deliberate and focused action in preparing teachers for this more desirable and critical role. The action should target attitude, skills, and knowledge and understanding. In other words a strategic investment in teacher training and up-skilling in information and communication technology must be a fundamental policy objective implementable in the shortest possible time. Of course, the content of the training will include among other things forecasting of trends in information and communication technology development and teaching learning interactions.
Reference has been made earlier to the power and role of information and communication in education. The fact is that what the new information and communication technology particularly of the last twenty years have done is to dramatically increase the array of opportunities for learning. Exceedingly more materials for reading both for information and pleasure, more iconic presentations, more opportunities for simulating and problem posing, as well as problem solving and a wider range of multi-media are now available and accessible through developments in information and communication technology.
But even more significantly, the new technologies enable the integration of multi-media to provide richer and more fulsome experiences for learners much more meaning and relevance is seen to learning with application of multi-media presentations. This situation has been unprecedented. Indeed students and teachers can occupy the same learning space and along with others, create a genuine learning community in which there is a rich diversity of learning opportunities geared at self instruction and group learning. Information and communication technology is in reality a very potent force in enhancing learning.
The foregoing reflection and observation anticipate my proposals on "Making the necessary changes to the Education System in meeting the changing needs of the 21st Century". At once let me propose the very first and simple change that is needed in an education system is an attitudinal embrace of information and communication technologies and an understanding and appreciation of its potential to propel students' and teachers' learning curves "off the chart".
The second proposal is for the education system to start to identify "winners" for the most productive dollar expenditure. In this case, the "winner" ought to be competent teachers, trained and motivated in the use of not only the new information and communication technologies, but in the full range of technologies- from radio cassettes to multi-media. The concept of "winners" should not be far removed from the education enterprise at this time.
The third proposal is for complementing wire with wireless technology to connect all schools and other educational institutions. Including providing adequate supply of hardware, software and Internet connection for research to empower the institution to achieve the full benefit of technology.
In relation to the fore going and in response to the need to transform the education system for the 21st century, the government has made education and training an averring priority (White paper 2001). One of these objectives is "To enhance student learning by the greater use of information and communication technology as preparation for life in the national and global communities".
In addition to this long- term plan, the Ministry, through its Professional Development Unit, is providing in-service training for Principals and teachers in primary and secondary schools island wide to facilitate the integration of technology in all aspects of the provision of education such as teaching and learning, administration and management, preparation of reports, application and basic trouble shooting. Since the introduction of a co-ordinator for Information Technology in 2001, over 500 teachers have been trained across the island. The target for 2003-2004 stands at 694 and is likely to increase with the introduction of a fully equipped laboratory at the MOEYC.
Infant and basic schools are also being prepared to meet the challenges of the age of technology. In 1999 a pilot project was initiated in 5 parishes to install 32 Integrated Learning Systems commonly referred to as Childware (a complete learning centre comprising of an activity table, a computer, software, a specially designed illuminated keyboard and a standard keyboard), in 19 rural and urban schools and four resource centres. 133 teachers and 29 Education Officers were trained in basic computer skills and the use of this technology-driven learning system. The Monitoring and Evaluation Unit of the MOEYC did a formative evaluation of the project in April 2001. The findings revealed that the implementation of the project was accompanied by much enthusiasm on the part of Principals, teachers, parents and students, and is an indication that the communities are willing to support and sustain the project once the Ministry puts in place the basic amenities and develops a programme for on-going maintenance of the systems.
Equipping Schools for the 21st Century
As the Ministry seeks to promote the transformation of the education system one of its immediate goals is to raise the quality of education through the use of technology. The MOEYC in partnership with the Private Sector and school community is exploring the potential of ICT as a tool for enhancing the delivery of the curriculum at all levels of the education system. In addition to the training and re-training of teachers in the use of ICT, it has also sought to equip schools with the necessary hardware and software to assist teachers to meet this objective. The GOJ Edunet project, which began in 1997, had as its goal, equipping 947 public schools island wide with at least one computer and peripherals for administration and research. The Ministry also acknowledges the donation of computers from the following agencies and projects: The Minnesota /Jamaica Outreach Project, Cable and Wireless Jamaica Limited, Jamaica China Cooperation, National Housing Thrust, New Horizons Project, HEART Trust/NTA and the Jamaica All Age School Project Schools have been equipped with computers to ensure:
- Greater efficiency in school management, teaching and learning while promoting e-readiness;
- The provision of access to training materials and methodologies;
- Opportunities for communication, and
- Production of curricular materials.
This target has been met. The next step is to train teachers to use computers as tools for instructional technology.
The Ministry has also put in place a program to equip newly upgraded high schools to bring their resources in line with those of the traditional high schools. This, programme is implemented through the secondary enhancement programme, which provides financing to equip and refurbish computer laboratories in the schools on a phased basis. To date thirty-six schools have benefited from this initiative.
In terms of providing technical support, Human Employment and Resource Training-National Training Agency (HEART Trust-NTA) and the Core Curriculum Unit are collaborating to train computer repair technicians who will be placed in schools, which have computer laboratories. The training is delivered by HEART within a three to five- months period followed by a mandatory eight-week period of internship. The Ministry's Core Curriculum staff does placement.
Provision of ICT resources have also been made for mentally challenged students in Special Education units and departments in order to facilitate a better quality education for this population. The Special Education Unit at the Ministry is equipped with a Braille and Large Print Programme utilizing appropriate technology to reproduce text materials for teachers and students who are blind or visually challenged.
Partnerships with International Agencies
The Ministry has forged partnerships with a number of international agencies, which have provided funding through loans or grants to upgrade facilities in a number of schools across the island. Upgrading is being done through project initiatives, all of which have a significant ICT component. Through the USAID funded New Horizon For Primary Schools Project (NHP), 72 schools have received computers, multimedia such as large television screens, televisions, overhead projectors, VCRs and a variety of low tech support materials to assist with the delivery of the curriculum through the integration of technology in the teaching/learning process. The Educational Technology component of the project has two effects. The first is to encourage the use of new technologies to support literacy and numeracy learning in all 72 NHP schools. The second is to work closely with five of the 72 schools and CASE to support more technology intensive teaching and learning opportunities. In terms of how technology relates to teaching and learning, teachers have been trained to apply a more constructivist approach to the delivery of instruction.
Through a project of Department International Development of the British Government " The Jamaica All Age Schools Project (JAASP)", 162 rural schools received computers to be used for administration and instructional delivery. In addition teachers have been trained in basic computer skills to assist with teaching and learning. The Project has also donated a number of computers to each of the six Regional Education Offices to facilitate the establishment of Regional Resource Rooms for Education Officers. In addition, computers have also been donated to the Literacy Centres at Bethlehem and Moneague Colleges, and the Professional Development Unit at the Ministry of Education Youth and Culture to build capacity and to develop databases in order to respond to the need for information from schools and the wider community.
Another of the initiatives of the Ministry to bring ICT into the mainstream of the education system is through the Primary Education Support Project (PESP). The primary objective is to:
" Improve student learning by greater use of information and communication technology as preparation for life in the national and global communities. The process to achieve this aim is to create a teaching force in which all practitioners possess the critical requisite skills and competencies required to use Instructional Technology as a tool in enhancing the teaching and learning process in the15 primary schools selected for the project."
Schools were selected from among small multi-grade schools, inner-city schools without computers, inner- city schools with computers and schools with computer laboratories. At the end of the pilot project, the PESP pilot model will be institutionalised and replicated in the education system at the primary level.
The Role of the Media Services Unit
In terms of institutional strengthening, the functions of the Ministry's Media Services Unit have been expanded and amplified to reflect the new paradigm. In addition to managing the Primary and Secondary Textbook Programmes, the unit is now mandated to:
- Provide and develop multimedia curriculum materials in the form of print, audio-visual, educational small media to the pre-primary, primary and secondary school system;
- Centralise and rationalise the materials development activities of the MOEYC;
- Coordinate and implement learning materials needs assessments and impact studies in the six regions, and
- Implement MOEYC Internet Project and its Edunet.
Staffing is in place to meet the objectives of the newly restructured unit and a section for ICT guided by a senior education officer.
A Revised Curriculum
The Ministry's Core Curriculum Unit has revised the primary curriculum with special emphasis on ICT as a tool for instructional delivery. A section of the curriculum highlights how technology can enhance teaching and learning experiences in the classroom through the honing of basic skills by teachers and students alike. Teachers have been sensitised to the new curriculum. At the grades 7- 9 levels the Information Technology curriculum is now being piloted and will be circulated to all schools at the end of this activity. The Technical/Vocational schools have collaborated with the Core Curriculum Unit to develop this curriculum. At the upper secondary level students can now opt to do ICT as one of their selected subjects both in the C-Sec and CAPE examinations. In addition, students are given the option to do Computer Assisted Drawing (CAM), Computer Assisted Manufacturing (CAM), and Computer Numerical Controls (CNC).
Another initiative, which is now being executed, is the drafting of a common curriculum for grades, 10 and 11, which will further reflect emphasis on ICT as a major component.
The Ministry is cognisant of the fact that ICT must play an even greater role in education and training in the future. It is against this background that the Ministry maintains an active website to provide information on policies and programmes, other related educational resources, the draft ICT policy and links to other government agencies and departments. The Ministry's Webmaster keeps the page current.
Distance education is being embraced by the Ministry as a viable alternative to face -to -face instruction as it seeks to build capacity. This is particularly evident at the tertiary level where it has taken the leadership to strengthen the cadre of teachers available for Mathematics and Science through the Bachelor of Science Programme, which began in January 2003 and is delivered partly at a distance. Other distance education initiatives that are being considered include delivery of the High School Equivalency Programme. The Ministry has also endorsed a number of programmes offered at a distance among which are the post- graduate Programmes in Instructional Technology and Distance Education offered by Nova Southeastern University. Very significant was an undergraduate programme in Computing and Information Systems delivered by the Athabasca Open University in Canada and this is managed by the Commonwealth of Learning with support from the Ministry of Education Youth and Culture. From this scholarship programme funded by the Canadian Government, 25 teachers have graduated with a first degree in Computer Science. The Ministry has also obtained the services of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers attached to Regional Offices and to schools to trouble-shoot computer problems.
There is indeed much more to be done in equipping the education systems to meet the challenges and needs of the 21st century but an important beginning has been made. With continued emphasis on partnerships, both internal and external, and investment in information and communication technology, the education system should see real changes in short measure.
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