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STEM has gathered steam

...increased ministry funding; the arts now included

MIGUEL A THOMAS
Associate editor
thomasm@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 24, 2017

There's been talk that the Ministry of Education's thrust towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) areas and methodology has petered out, but, according to chief education officer in the ministry, Dr Grace McLean, it's quite the opposite — it has gathered steam.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer in a one-on-one on Tuesday at the ministry's Heroes' Circle offices, Dr McLean said that the ministry has continued to support the implementation of STEM within the education curriculum, as started in 2014 with eight schools, and the effort has been undergirded with funding.

“Since 2014 we have been able to complete, accept and test the conceptual framework as it relates to the implementation of STEM. This is not only the acronym for four subjects... within our school system, but STEM also speaks to the methodology that is actually used as the fundamental basis to ensure that all subjects are integrated and are taught in a manner where the curriculum is not seen as abstract, it is seen as practical and engages in problem-based and project-based approaches to learning, so that the students can see themselves in real-life situations.”

Dr McLean advised that to show the seriousness with which the paradigm shift is being approached, the ministry engaged a STEM coordinator, Priscilla Deans, from July 2016, and she has been working directly with the industry partners and key stakeholders

“One of the areas she has been tracking specifically is the performance of students in their examinations... So since 2014 we have the first set of students in the STEM institutions who would have pursued specific STEM-related areas. We are currently doing the analysis to see how they would have performed to determine the areas of weaknesses that we need to follow up on,” Dr McLean said while advising that the eight schools have continued on the pathway and have been supported by industry professionals.

The chief education officer told Career & Education that in 2015 it partnered with the University of Technology, Jamaica, to evaluate the programme. The review revealed that, “We needed to provide greater level of resources to the schools so that they can actually move from the theoretical aspects that they would have learnt to the practical application,” said McLean.

She continued: “Now, in response to the research that was done, the ministry has significantly improved its funding for STEM. We have it in three areas, we have an overall amount of $182 million which can be used in any of the four areas. Outside of that we have a specific injection for science which is $50 million, and for ICT we have $151.5 million. So overall it's $384.5 million that we are providing for STEM-related areas within the school system.”

The ministry continues to ensure, McLean informed, that there is adequate technology to assist across all subject areas through the provision of software and the provision of computers, InFocus projectors, as well as the various kinds of applications that will allow the students to learn at a faster rate and for the learning to become more practical.

The Observer was told that there was also a slight modification to the conceptual framework of STEM between 2015 and 2016 which speaks to the arts — STEAM.

“So the arts is actually of great importance, because we have to make sure the areas of history, social studies and geography are integrated in the approach so we get them to understand how these areas impact on society,” said McLean.

“STEM is really the pillars that are used to build an economy, so everything has to be included.”

She highlighted St Elizabeth school the Sydney Pagon STEM Academy, which has been reaping significant results as it implements and advances the STEM programme and has been making a positive impact on the education landscape in the parish.

“Nobody is transferring out of Sydney Pagon,” declared McLean in reference to the school that in years gone had worried about its continuity and was renamed and rebranded at the launch of the STEM effort.

“We provide blocks of funds to schools, $2 million and upwards, so that they can improve their science labs, so they can buy the materials that they require and do the upgrading. We, the ministry, actually procure computers and distribute them to schools as well as micro science kits, because if we procure them centrally the we will achieve economies of scale,” added McLean.

“We can say we are progressing as it relates to STEM... STEM is gradually becoming a way of life in terms of how the schools operate, and it is our intention to continue as we work to adequately prepare our young people to seize the jobs that will become available to meet the needs of our society and the world,” concluded McLean.