Careers & Education

Howard Campbell: Taking his unconventional teaching style to the Caribbean

BY DENISE DENNIS Career & Education staff reporter dennisd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 14, 2012    

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AS a teenager at Jamaica College in the 1980s, Howard Campbell dreamed of becoming a civil engineer. But by fifth form he was to learn he wouldn't have that career and the path of his life took a different turn.

Campbell was not approved to study geography at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level, which is necessary to pursue a course in civil engineering.

"Then and there I had to call that quits," he told the Jamaica Observer.

He ended up doing the science subjects in the CSEC examinations and matriculated to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona where he started studying for a degree in the natural sciences programme.

"So here I was along the path of the sciences when at some point I decided the sciences was not for me," Campbell recalls in a recent interview with Career & Education.

He subsequently dropped out of UWI and managed to get a summer job at CMP Metal Products Ltd. That job was to become the catalyst for the path his life was to take.

During that summer, the only two permanent employees in the production planning department left, making Campbell the most experienced person there.

"I stayed on and became the production planner within the two years I was there. So totally by accident, I started out in the manufacturing sector," he said.

During that time, however, he had an experience that opened the door to a career that would become his passion.

"One day while there, I deleted a file from the computer which caused the computer to not be able to turn on. I thought I had destroyed the whole computer system. At this point I had absolutely no in-depth knowledge of how computers really work," he explained.

Campbell said he later had a conversation with the technician who came to fix the computer and it was at that moment that he developed an acute interest in computers and how they operate.

"It's like a switch was flicked and at that point my interest in computers and how they operate was also switched on," he said.

This interest led Campbell to start a company, to become a computer sciences lecturer, an information technology teacher and now a consultant in education and technology.

Campbell said he did a diploma programme in computer studies and later a bachelor's degree in computer studies and management at the University of Technology (UTech).

After years of studying about computers, he started APC systems which designed computer systems and developed software.

"Much of what I know and pass on now is not stuff that I got in a conventional classroom. I am not one of those conventional learners. Studies about computers is something that happen every day," said the 41-year-old, who, after lecturing at UTech for six years, decided to become a high school teacher.

In 1999, he started teaching at St Andrew High School for Girls.

"What led me to St Andrew High is the quality of the students I saw coming into the university to pursue courses in IT. I wasn't happy with the level that they were at and I figured a part of the contribution I could make is to teach at the secondary level," he said.

Campbell said he greatly enjoyed his time at St Andrew High as it allowed him to develop valuable teaching skills and a love for teaching.

"It was something I absolutely enjoyed and I put my all into it. It was also the period that would have put me on the map where enabling students success is concerned," he said, adding that under his tutelage, over seven students received national awards.

"The success of my students continue to motivate me," Campbell said.

It was this passion for education and dedication to the success of students that led Campbell to start writing books and he has self-published seven of them for the CXC level information technology and computer studies.

He said his books are being used in at least 10 countries across the Caribbean, and in two of the countries the education ministries purchased copies for students.

"My motivation is human achievement; not just mine but that of the other persons whom I interact with. For me it's never been about money so it has to be about how it is that the person or entity using my service achieves. I seek to empower on a day to day basis," Campbell said.

He started to do education consultancy in 1997 and continues through his company Howard Campbell and Associates. "Thought-leadership", helping governments and policymakers in Jamaica and across the Caribbean to think and rethink strategies that will help to bridge the achievement gap. It then works to conceptualise, design and help to implement these strategies.

For example, in St Vincent he helped to develop teachers' competence in the use of educational technology to enhance the way lessons are planned and taught in that country.

After years of working in education, Campbell advises teachers to treat their role as an educator as a profession.

"Stay on top of your game where education and training is concerned. Recognise that every single class or every single interaction that you have with a learner is one that is likely to change the course of their future and as such, any knowledge you impart or any advice that you give must be legally defensible," he said.

He is now completing a master's degree in e-learning from the University of Edinburgh.

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