Career & Education

Mathematics policy bearing fruit, says Reid

Associate editor — features

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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When the National Mathematics Policy Guidelines were introduced in 2013, the Ministry of Education said it was in response to “the unsatisfactory performance of students in mathematics and the low levels of numeracy exhibited by students and graduates of the Jamaican educational system”, which it described as a crisis.

At the time, it said the percentage of a given secondary cohort leaving the formal education system with mathematics qualifications was less than 20 per cent.

Four years on, the policy appears to be reaping success, marginal though it may be in respect to national student scores.

For example, when one compares the data for 2016 and 2017, Grade Four Numeracy Test moved from 60 per cent to 67 per cent) Grade Six Achievement Test went from 59 per cent to 63 per cent, and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate moved from 49 per cent in 2016 to 52 per cent the following year.

“Improvements in all student performance indicators were seen in 2017,” portfolio minister Ruel Reid said last week, observed as Mathematics Week.

Among the critical actions the policy has effected towards the improved grades is to discontinue the hiring of teachers “not suitably qualified” to teach the subject.

As National Mathematics Coordinator Dr Tamika Benjamin explains it, “A teacher is deemed unsuitably qualified if they do not have the qualifications outlined in the National Mathematics Policy Guidelines to teach the subject at the specified level of the education system.”

To that end, when a school, through its board, interviews and selects a potential teacher of mathematics, the ministry has to grant approval based on the minimun requirements laid out for particular teaching levels.

“The development and implementation of the National Mathematics Policy Guidelines has played a significant role in improving the quality of pre-service teacher education as primary and secondary mathematics student teachers are required to access more mathematics credit hours than were required prior to 2014,” Minister Reid said.

In tandem with that, he said the ministry's move to offer some 400 scholarships to people interested in studying secondary mathematics education for 2016 - 2018 will increase the number of trained mathematics teachers deployed across the system.

“The first cohort of 109 teachers will graduate in 2019,” Reid said last week.

With regard to existing teachers of mathematics found to be “unsuitably qualified”, Dr Benjamin pointed out that once they are permanently employed, they are not separated from the system but are instead redeployed to their area of specialisation if space permits.

In addition to prioritising the hiring of suitably qualified talent, the policy and its attendant programmes — to include the National Mathematics Programme, National Comprehensive Numeracy Programme, and the National Standards Curriculum — have facilitated:

• Support in the form of 75 maths coaches and 14 specialists which provides, among other things, lesson observations with immediate feedback, guidance in lesson planning, and demonstration lessons to 105 secondary and 116 primary schools

• Development and implementation of the Mathematics Student Teacher Diagnostic Test

• Development of a suite of readiness tools for primary students, which, along with diagnostic and mock tests, have supported the ministry in monitoring school performance and supporting principals in developing targeted interventions to provide support to students

“We are anticipating further improvements this year,” Reid said, adding, “We hope children coming through our education system will not only be effective learners at school, but will continue as critical, reflective and independent thinkers after they leave school. We also hope that the solid foundation we build for our children can help some of them to proceed confidently beyond first degrees to engage in more challenging research work.”

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