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Expose students to technology early, IDB rep tells Jamaica

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

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Country representative for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Therese Turner-Jones, says students need to be introduced to emerging technologies at a much younger age if Jamaica hopes to bridge the knowledge gap that now exists between itself and the rest of the world.“It's not okay to say we are better than Trinidad. So what? We want to be better than Finland, which gets the best result in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). That's where we have to take the mindset of education,” Turner-Jones insisted last week at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.

The IDB country representative was part of a team of stakeholders discussing the education of boys as it relates to the launch the British Council's Boys in Education Week, which was observed from May 1 to 5.

“What we are learning about where work is going to be in the next century is not what we are teaching right now — (such as) manufacturing that doesn't involve human beings, agriculture that can be grown in buildings, not on farms — so when you hear about what technology is doing in the rest of the world… Jamaica and the Caribbean are using technology to a little extent, but not to the extent to which we need to be using it. So there is a huge gap in our knowledge base, so it has to start really early,” she said.

“We have to take this subject of education way beyond what our minds can imagine that our kids are going to need to know to function within the next 30 years. The technology is already there; we are way behind. You cannot put kids behind a desk with a chalkboard and talk to them like they are imbeciles… from 18 months old kids are now programming, and we put them in the classroom and teaching in a way that is sort of arcane,” Turner-Jones stated.

She argued that the Caribbean should focus on fitting into a world that is “all technology”, positing: “If it means we don't need human beings to produce things anymore, we shouldn't be teaching kids multiple timetables — we have calculators to do that, we have algorithms that can solve problems. There are other things we ought to be doing to make sure the brains of our kids are developed to their maximum potential.”

Turner-Jones noted that according to official data, only 30 per cent of students leaving high school qualify to enter tertiary-level institutions. “So they can't get into UWI (University of the West Indies), UTech (the University of Technology), or any of our tertiary institutions because they don't have the credentials. Basically, they have failed high school. Seventy per cent of all the kids in Jamaican high schools face this dilemma — I call it a crisis,” she said.

She said policymakers and other players must seek to improve these outcomes by enhancing teacher quality, the curriculum, and other areas, but that solutions need to be implemented for the stock of people who already cannot take up jobs because they are not qualified.

Commenting on the continued underperformance of boys in the education system, Turner-Jones noted that traditionally, STEM attracts more male than female students, but said: “I think that there is something about the way we are teaching kids early on that is not quite teaching the boys.”

At the same time, Turner-Jones said that for better outcomes, it is best to make comparisons with the rest of the world in the testing of students' knowledge and skills when they are measured at an older age, such as 15 for example, rather than at age 11.

The inaugural Boys in Education Week ended Friday with a boys app development hackathon at UTech. The week was organised by the British Council with support from the IDB. The British Council is a cultural relations organisation that works to promote knowledge sharing and understanding between Jamaica and the United Kingdom, and the rest of the Caribbean.

Participants in the sessions, which was aimed at promoting sustainable solutions to address the current challenges of boys in education, included the Ministry of Education, parents, teachers, and international experts.

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