BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — Special assignment email@example.com
An online learning programme aimed at making studying easier for Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination students was officially launched yesterday by the Jamaica Observer and EduFocal.
The programme, which received the thumbs-up from business and political leaders, has been hailed by Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell as "magical" and "transformative", and one which will enable the country to emerge from the doldrums of under-performance and under-productivity.
Paulwell, who attended the launch with colleagues, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites and junior minister in the Ministry of Technology Julian Robinson, said the Government's thrust into the ICT sector is aimed at stimulating people's ability to question information.
"We are trying to create a far more inquisitive and enquiring mind, somebody who can use the information that is so ubiquitous to enable growth and development for him/herself and our country," Paulwell told guests at the function held at the Observer's head offices in Kingston.
Paulwell said there has not been sufficient explanation for the preoccupation with getting Jamaica to be a part of the information age. As such, he said, many people believed that the liberalisation of telecommunication in Jamaica was about getting people to talk more.
"But that wasn't it at all. It is identifying that we here have certain abilities and we are extremely creative, and once we put our minds to solving problems we can come up with those answers, and so what we are seeing here today is a Jamaican who is dealing with a problem that we have," the minister said in reference to EduFocal founder and chief executive officer Gordon Swaby.
Swaby said the programme, which is the first service of its kind in the Caribbean to incorporate gaming elements in education, has seen very positive responses from media, teachers, students and other stakeholders.
Under the partnership with the Observer students can access EduFocal for free with the purchase of a Sunday Observer in which an access code is published each week.
Additionally, the partnership will see the two-year-old EduFocal expanding its content base to offer not only questions and answers for subjects but reading material from the Observer's Study Centre publications.
"EduFocal is created from a student's perspective... how a student would want a service to practise for the exam and not how the teacher would want his or her students to practise for the examination," said the 22-year-old, who added that he is still young enough to understand the needs of both high and primary school students.
In addition to studying and learning in a fun way, Swaby said students love the competitive nature of the programme. Incentives such as a $30,000 scholarship will be given to the top scorers in GSAT and CSEC for the year, and smaller rewards such as phone credit, movie tickets, food vouchers, among others are given to top scorers in respective tests.
Minister Thwaites said the programme emphasises not only competition but critical thinking and de-emphasises the memorisation which has cramped the human development associated with education.
"We have a uniquely local tool and an adaptable one which can move us beyond the mediocrity of our educational outcome at this time," he said, adding that Jamaica needs to move quickly to use the appropriate technology if the country is to become developed.
The Government, he said, is examining the best way to make tablet computers available to as many students as possible across Jamaica.
"And the success of EduFocal will give us a good incline as to what that can be," he said.
Deputy chairman and chief executive officer of the Observer Adam Stewart, said this programme is timely as the root cause of the challenges in Jamaica, the region, and the wider world is related to a lack of education.
"If Jamaica is going to have a big and bright future, the more educated our entire populace becomes, the better," he said.
"What is cool about this programme is the dynamics and newness of how this is being done, as this is totally untraditional and is quite inspiring."
Observer Managing Director Danville Walker expressed pleasure at the partnership with EduFocal, noting that it offers students an opportunity to access an "integrated online learning environment in preparation for their GSAT and CSEC examinations".
"Our commitment to education and the process of education is evidenced by our publications TeenAGE Observer, Learning Corner and Study Guide, and now EduFocal," he said.
Executive Editor of Publications Vernon Davidson said the newspaper sees its role as more than just a purveyor of news.
"We believe strongly that as citizens of this country we have a role to play in its development," he said, adding that the company's mission statement speaks to supporting organisations and individuals who work for the betterment of the country.