We are intrigued by news that the Ministry of Education is now preparing to unveil a new policy on the teaching of Mathematics that will pay special attention to standards.
The story, 'Ministry unveils new Math policy' in yesterday's Sunday Observer reports National Mathematics Coordinator in the Ministry of Education Dr Tamika Benjamin as saying that the new policy seeks to establish standards for all levels.
As readers will already be well aware, concern not only about Mathematics but also about English has heightened recently following unveiling of the annual CSEC results showing declining scores for high school students.
In the case of Mathematics this year, CSEC pass rates declined from 33.2 per cent to 31.7 per cent.
The true situation is even worse than that, for according to the Sunday Observer, CSEC data shows that for the last 10 years more than 70 per cent of eleventh graders, in any given year, leave high school without even sitting Math.
And at the lower age group level only 43 per cent of Grade Four students achieved mastery in 2011, an increase over the 34 per cent in 2010, but way below the ministry's target of 85 per cent by 2015.
It's against that backdrop that Dr Benjamin is quoted as saying that the new Mathematics policy will go "into things such as minimum matriculation requirements for entry into teacher education programmes. It speaks to what the programmes should look like, and ensures that adequate effort is made to build the content knowledge of the student teacher, as well as how they should teach the subject."
The policy will require aspiring Math teachers to sit a diagnostic test before acceptance to teachers college and teachers at early childhood and secondary level will be required to have a Bachelor's degree with specialisation in Mathematics.
The Sunday Observer reports Dr Benjamin as saying that the policy of ensuring Math teachers are well equipped to teach the subject will 'correct circumstances, particularly at the primary level, where some teachers, as a result of their own weaknesses, opt to reduce the amount of time devoted to the subject, turning instead to others with which they are more comfortable'.
It all sounds good, but we are left to wonder if this more rigorous approach won't leave us struggling to find Math teachers of the requisite standard.
In our increasingly fast moving world driven by market forces what's to entice the young university graduate who is good at Mathematics to take a low-paying job in the classroom?
It takes us to an issue raised recently by distinguished educator Mr Wesley Barrette in these pages as to whether teachers of Mathematics should not be paid more than their colleagues in other subject areas.
Curiously, Mr Barrette tells us that as a Math teacher, "the idea of premium pay for teachers of Mathematics did not come to mind. However, as an administrator it did ..."
Obviously as Mr Barrette himself pointed out, there would be consequences to making salary distinctions between teachers in this manner. What about teachers in other subject areas in which students also struggle including English and the Sciences?
However, so serious is the Math problem that it seems to us that all stakeholders including the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Teachers Association should give this idea serious thought, if even as a short term solution.