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Innovations in education

WESLEY BARRETT

Tuesday, December 18, 2012    

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Partisan political point scoring, bashing of people and groups, and a list of "scandals" appear to be the main staple for many political platforms and much media focus. They constitute a disproportionate amount of time. Worse still, they divert attention from problem solving and reflection. Helpful ideas such as promoting confidence in sectors such as education, justice, health and small business never seem to elicit sustained dialogue and reflection. In fact, they seem to be regarded as esoteric.

Even at the risk of appearing to be indulgent, I want to encourage much more innovation in educational policy and practice. First, I'd say that many Jamaicans and institutions are involved in innovation in one way or the other, although some "innovations' are unwelcomed. Secondly, not every instituted change is considered an innovation. We normally think of an innovation as an application of creativity arising from a new idea that promotes sustainable change. There are programmes that include the label "innovation" or even involve the use of modern technology that are being described as innovations, but really are not. I won't elaborate, but instead I will comment on some innovations in the past and the need for others.

We should acknowledge many innovations in our education and training system since our national independence in 1962. Recently we celebrated the establishment of HEART Trust. That was a major policy innovation in the 1980s and was followed by a supporting one, the establishment of the National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training in the 1990s. Within these institutions we have had many noteworthy programme innovations also that have solved problems and advanced national development.

I would regard the establishment of the New Secondary Schools in the 1970s as a policy innovation to popularise and improve technical vocational education and training. Since then, and with the complement of HEART/NTA, vocational education and training as a discipline has been adding value, and to a great extent holds one of the keys to economic take-off. Of course, it combines the academics with technology and must be a major strategy for economic development.

Other notable policy innovations would include the mobilisation of resources to the education sector through the Adopt-A-School Programme initiated in the early 1990s. Cognisance of it was taken by the World Bank which referenced it in many reports and recommendations. About the same time the Cost Sharing Programme was established, and in all respects it would be regarded as a policy innovation. Since then there have been variants to it. It has solved and continues to solve some funding problems.

However, I am concerned that we have not seen any significant and novel change that measures up to a policy innovation in the education and training system over the last several years. There has been very little major research in this regard as well. We've had some new national policies and programmes, but these in my view do not compare in novelty and impact to most years gone by. For example, there have been new policies and programmes to address the issue of low literacy attainment, but these are yet to demonstrate any prospect for significant success any time soon. Present major challenges in the education system require not one but many significant innovations, or else we keep marking time.

As suggested earlier, there would be many innovations we could cite. In the schools there are some that are applicable across the board. The problem is that knowledge of them is inadequate, but the more worrying aspect is that except for the science fairs, a way has yet to be found to effectively and efficiently share the innovations and innovative ideas. Very few schools are keen to share their "secrets". This is undesirable since no one loses anything and everyone gains something by sharing.

To improve this entire scenario, there should be a concerted national drive to promote low-cost, high-impact innovation in teaching and learning across the curriculum. In this case most, if not all schools should be involved, preferably in collaborative ventures. A critical component would be to develop a positive attitude towards innovation and sharing of innovative ideas. This could be done easily through school clusters. In this way much diffusion would take place also. Then we could see significant improvement in learning and teaching. The use of discarded or any surplus materials should become a feature.

I am thinking that the areas of mathematics, science and technical vocational education should be targeted perhaps in the first instance. These areas are the ones that have the greatest potential, apart from reading and communication literacy to contribute to effective learning and national development generally. Already to some pleasing extent, innovations in classroom science experiments are happening, but need to be much more widespread and diversified.

Can 50 per cent more of private-sector entities, including the media houses, adopt an innovation that is education and economy-related in every school over the next five years? Can we expect any major policy innovation soon? I hope so. We can be assured that educational innovations will impact the economy more profoundly than most other things.

wesebar@yahoo.com

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