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Pass CSEC math in 2nd form?

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 31, 2011    

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UNIVERSITY lecturer Dr Sam McDaniel is embarking on an ambitious project to prove that students can pass the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) math exam after only two years of high school.

The project will involve 60 “bright” children, entering the secondary school system in September, being tutored for two years by the highly acclaimed math teacher and two assistants, after which they will sit the exam — normally written after five years of high school when students are in fifth form.

The population defined as “bright” for the purposes of the pilot is children who scored at least 90 per cent in mathematics in the 2011 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). McDaniel is inviting new first formers in this category to register in the programme in which they will attend two-hour classes after school, two afternoons per week, for a total of four hours per week.

Initial response from parents to the challenge, dubbed ‘Sam’s Accelerated Mathematics Pilot (SAMP)’, has been overwhelming.

“They think it’s a great idea and something they definitely want to be a part of. Feedback has been positive,” disclosed McDaniel, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees in biostatistics from Harvard University along with a bachelor’s in mathematics from University of the West Indies where he currently lectures.

Interestingly, McDaniel is not asking parents to do anything he is not doing himself. His son, the third of his four children, who will attend Campion College in September, will be part of the pilot.

He boldly predicts that with dedication, his young students can even pass mathematics at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) level in four years — three years earlier than the normal seven.

“I’m serious about it,” McDaniel said. “We want the participants to believe in themselves and want to do this, and not to be coerced by friends or parents.”

SAMP has not come about through a bizarre ambition to produce a cadre of math geniuses in Jamaica. The fact is the island is lagging behind in the region and the world in this all-important subject.

“Based on our performance in the Mathematics Olympiad, when you look at the composition of teams from Latin America especially, you realise we in Jamaica are light years behind in terms of what our children can accomplish,” McDaniel said.

He noted that in the competition for children under 16 years old, a team from Colombia that finished third behind Mexico was comprised of two 12-year-olds and one 14-year-old. The average age of the Jamaican team was over 15.

Not surprisingly, McDaniel is critical of how the subject is taught in high schools. Too much time is wasted in the first three years in his opinion, following the excellent foundation laid at the primary level by GSAT.

“The general perception is that in the first two or three years of high school, students are not focused because they can get by based on their GSAT preparation because the GSAT is pretty comprehensive,” said the lecturer, who has also taught at schools such as Ardenne High and St Andrew High.

“For those who want to critique this programme in a negative way, I would say that SAMP will validate the GSAT mathematics programme. The GSAT is at a level that allows students to progress into CSEC within two years,” McDaniel said.

He hopes the pilot will form the basis for a number of research papers on students’ capability to learn mathematics and their performance in the subject. He also intends to reproduce the programme on a wider scale.

“We don’t want our talented, brilliant students to lose interest,” he concluded.

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