THERE is no question that education today is not the same as it was 50 years ago when Jamaica gained Independence. Technology has dramatically changed the way children can learn and the pace at which they can learn. Jamaican schoolchildren are no different from those of other countries in that they are more exposed to the world, thanks to cable television and the Internet.
While we have reason to complain about pass rates at exams, change has been coming to many schools, and my experience with the recent Flow In My School technology competition exposed me to some of the amazing and even surprising things taking place in some of our schools, despite the lack of publicity.
Flow undertook a competition to have schools across the island submit presentations on how they are using technology to enhance the learning process. I was asked to be one of the judges and simply must share the positive stories I came across because I feel that it is important that all Jamaicans, especially those abroad, know that real progress and innovation are taking place in education.
While only a few schools may have traditional computer labs, classrooms are being brought to life with overhead projectors, television sets, web cameras and even AutoCAD software. I remember my technical drawing class and using a T-square. I was surprised and happy to see Meadowbrook High and St Elizabeth Technical exposing students to AutoCAD for technical drawings and renderings. This can only benefit those students later in life if they choose to go into a field requiring experience with this widely used software.
Depending only on textbooks and one teacher at the front of the class lecturing is the old way of teaching. Many schools today are including videos from YouTube, programmes from channels like Discovery Science and even videoconferencing with local and foreign schools. Global exposure is critical to developing a smarter workforce, and technology can provide that more cheaply than trips requiring visas.
There is always a concern that the children will understand the technology far more than the parents. If a parent does not know how to use a computer, then it is impossible to monitor the child at home when they do get a computer. That is why I was pleasantly surprised that Rollington Town Primary offered a free IT programme in the evenings for the parents who were interested. Adult education is also an investment in the future of Jamaica and I applaud this initiative.
I kept coming across the use of Skype to expose American students to Jamaican culture and that by itself is a form of ambassadorship. It helps to reduce prejudice and dispel misconceptions about developing countries. I am sure many Jamaicans can relate to being asked if Jamaica has electricity or running water. It has happened to many people from developing countries. The more US students are exposed to the real Jamaica, the better it is later on when those students are in the working world and considering hiring Jamaicans or doing business in Jamaica.
I must single out Allman Town Primary, which has its own online radio station, the only primary school in Jamaica with one, I am told. They even broadcast live from the Penn Relays this past April. Hands-on experience with broadcasting software and a medium of the future can only be good for these children.
All of this technology is meant to enhance the learning process and improve outcomes. Waterford Primary opened a computer lab and enrichment room. They provided the following data to the competition: Numeracy/Literacy and GSAT passes have all improved. Between 2009 and 2012 literacy increased from 58 per cent to 72.6 per cent; GSAT went from 47 per cent to 54 per cent and numeracy climbed from 25 per cent to 42 per cent.
These are significant steps in the right direction, and we as a society must support and encourage this innovative approach to integrating technology in a meaningful way within the education system, starting as early as possible. These are investments in the future workforce of Jamaica, a workforce that will need to be global in outlook and competitive in technology skills.
Thank you to Flow, Nicole Campbell and Careltte DeLeon for involving me in the competition so that I could learn about these great stories.
David Mullings was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board.