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Whither the civics books?

Many schools still awaiting teaching material for new subject

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Observer senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 31, 2012    

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THE roll-out of the new civics programme in schools could be off to a rocky start as many schools have not yet received any material to deliver it, days before the start of the new school year.

Several school principals told the Jamaica Observer this week that they were still awaiting workbooks and other resources promised by the Ministry of Education.

The programme was launched at Marcus Garvey Technical High School in St Ann by education minister Rev Ronald Thwaites on August 17, Garvey's birthday. It will include the philosophy of Garvey, who advocated for equal rights and justice especially for people of African descent.

Up to yesterday, Claude McKay High School in Clarendon had not received any materials for the programme, although the school's principal Glennor Wilson said the ministry had promised that they would be delivered before the school year starts on Monday.

In the interim, however, she said her social studies teachers would be researching existing material on Garvey in order to start the new subject.

"The social studies teachers are capable people who can do research. A textbook has been produced to deal with the (civics) syllabus. At (the Jamaica Teachers' Association) conference last week the ministry assured us that we would be getting them before school reopens," Wilson told the Observer.

Yesterday, Principal of Allman Town Primary in Kingston Kandi-Lee Crooks-Smith said her school had not received any of the new materials either. She had, however, in July attended a sensitisation workshop for principals in preparation for the new subject.

"We have not seen any hard copy (of the civics materials) for ourselves so we have not been able to prepare adequately," she said. "For my school I would say for the civics education broadly, we are 80 per cent ready, but if I were to include the Marcus Garvey philosophy, zero. "

She said that the workshop facilitated a discussion on ways in which the importance of Garvey's work could be delivered and some of the ideas that were generated included involving the uniformed groups, incorporating the late hero's philosophy in devotional exercises, paying respect to the national flag and national symbols, singing the national anthem and reciting the national pledge.

It was a similar situation for Edith Dalton James High in Kingston. Prinicpal Ray Howell, while welcoming the introduction of Garvey's teachings in the curriculum, said his school had not received the new material.

"I will be discussing it with my head of department who has just returned from overseas," he told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday. "I am sure the ministry will provide the requested material to the teachers," he said.

When contacted yesterday for a follow-up, Howell said his school was still not in receipt of the material.

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Clayton Hall didn't appear to be worried. He said the slow delivery of the course material was one of the teething pains of a new programme. He said he had seen one of the manuals for the new civics programme, but had not personally read through it to determine whether Garvey's philisophy was included.

Meanwhile, it was not clear how learning in the newly introduced subject will be assessed. Hall indicated that students may be required to write an exam at the end of the school year, but Crooks-Smith of Allman Town thinks the focus will be less academic and more towards character building.

"Whatever content is taught there will be some form of assessment," Hall told the Observer.

Said Crooks-Smith: "When students leave at grade six, we are hoping they will see themselves as worthwhile individuals and citizens of the country, and that they will develop critical thinking skills with tolerance and compassion."

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Grace McLean was off the island and unavailable for comment, but passed on a request for information on the civics programme to Amina Blackwood-Meeks, the ministry's director of culture in education.

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