BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
STILL reeling from the downward spiral in pass marks for Mathematics in the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) exams, Education Minister Reverend Ronald Thwaites says the ministry has come up with a rescue plan.
Speaking at a forum involving education ministry officials, members of academia, CXC officials and markers, and journalists last Thursday to explore factors contributing to the decline in English A and Mathematics this year, Thwaites said the ministry will be enabling up to 50 specialists in Mathematics instruction who will be available to offer assistance in schools.
"We are primarily targeting the close to 600 primary schools where such weaknesses have been evident. We are hoping to roll out by the end of this year, a programme of virtual education where there will be transmission on a regular television set through a channel and also by specific virtual communication machinery, the best of Mathematics teaching to those schools," Thwaites said.
He said, too, that the ministry intends to pull together a working group in both Mathematics and English literacy which will include the best minds from the academic community.
"This group will assist us to deal with what I consider to be a crisis and the main element that may drop us short of our 20/30 national targets," Minister Thwaites said.
Thwaites also hinted at a sweetener for teachers of Mathematics in the future.
"The ministry, insofar as we can readjust our resources internally, we feel there is a strong argument for offering a particular financial incentive to qualified Mathematics teachers to stay in the classrooms," he said.
In the meantime, the honeymoon might be over for persons who benefit from Government scholarships but ditch the public school system.
The concern was among several noted by University of the West Indies lecturer Professor Verene Shepherd as one factor contributing to the cycle of troubling results.
"What we have noticed is that some teachers get scholarships, whether from the ministry or other funding agencies, and they come to the UWI to do a degree but they don't necessarily return to the classroom... and so the cycle keeps going," she said.
Thwaites, in response, said, "it's a problem throughout the education system", before sounding this warning.
"The public should know that we simply cannot afford any longer to fund, in the tune of tens of millions of dollars, the upgrading of teachers which we very much want to support, but we must do so in areas that relate to the areas they are going to be teaching in. So we can't have people upgrading themselves in guidance counselling and then going back and being asked to teach Mathematics because the Math teacher is on leave.
"This is not intended to be punitive, but if you have benefited from the taxpayer in terms of improving your qualifications, there must be a specified and clearly observed system of giving back. You must be bonded for a period and these are requirements we are progressing with," the education minister told the forum.