Style Observer

2019 Ready: Marvin Hall

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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Hall is a STEM evangelist, and a firm believer that STEM activities are critical for Jamaica's future.

Marvin Hall is the founder of Halls of Learning, an educational services company that for the last 15 years has brought fun, hands-on learning experiences and activities to children of Jamaica from all backgrounds. He's a STEM evangelist, and a firm believer that STEM activities are critical for Jamaica's future. Here's why — in his own words.

During 2018, robotics and coding became more mainstream as learning activities for children and firmly positioned as premier STEM activities. We have seen this through the number of children participating in after-school clubs, summer camps, outreach workshops, courses in school and competitions. In 2002, in Singapore, these activities were already commonplace across their educational system and supported by enrichment activities at a well-funded science centre. Sixteen years later, Jamaica is still slowly waking up to the importance of STEM, and the first international ranking of our 15-year-old students in maths and science is not scheduled until 2021. This indicates not only how far behind we are, but until those test results are in, we have little clarity on the specific gaps that need to be addressed.

Why is STEM important?

While STEM knowledge focuses on the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEM skills focus on creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and also problem-solving, computational thinking and innovation. The STEM concepts of modelling, simulation, use of graphical representations and data to make decisions can be applied to any subject area. Stronger STEM skills and a stronger STEM industry will make Jamaica more competitive globally.

STEM is now part of a futurist global narrative which excites educators, business leaders and policymakers. In Jamaica, we are eager to teach our children STEM skills, yet there are a large number of children who are not literate in basic reading and comprehension. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every Jamaican child has these fundamental skills before we ask them to embrace the STEM future.

What is Jamaica's STEM future?

In the STEM future of Jamaica, we need to focus on key fields. With a strong bias, I would pick robotics and computer science. Both fields are rapidly impacting the real world through applications of Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and are already disrupting multiple industries. We also see China set to surpass the USA as the AI super power by 2030, so we should leverage our current relations with both to facilitate local initiatives.

We also need to support our educators. We have recognised in Vision 2030 that an outcome of Goal #2 is “world-class education and Training” for all Jamaicans. World Teachers' Day 2018 highlighted that “[t]he right to education means the right to a qualified teacher” and recognises education as a key fundamental right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The empowerment of teachers leading to the empowerment of our children is significant to achieving our national goals.

Looking toward 2019 and beyond, here are some ideas to build Jamaica's STEM future:

1 Embrace an interdisciplinary approach to learning, combining rigorous academic concepts with real-world applications to help students use STEM in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the wider world.

2 Embrace STEM education and training across all age and education levels: from preK through high school; both in school and after school; from undergraduate to postdoctoral studies; and through technical education, internships, apprenticeships, and certificate programmes.

3 Regular submission of our students to international evaluation will determine their global ranking in science, math and literacy. Jamaica should not only consider the PISA test for our 15-year-olds, but also the TIMSS test for grades 4 ,8 and the PERL test for literacy. Results from testing and ranking can be used to develop a 10-year strategic plan for STEM.

4 Increase existing and ongoing options for STEM certifications (teachers and regular workforce).

5 Increase student participation in STEM-related competitions, fairs and expos.

6 Position BPO industry to serve clients needing STEM-related and design skills.

7 Encourage businesses to assess the impact of AI and automation on their business models and implement training and measures to increase preparedness.

8 Encourage the government to implement policy that supports the STEM ecosystem. Look for progress indicators by the number of scholarships available for STEM teachers, STEM majors, STEM graduates, STEM jobs and funding for STEM start-ups.

9 Launch national science centres and children's museums to provide interdisciplinary and fun learning experiences, grounded in Jamaican culture.

10 Collaborate with China and US to fund & support local R&D labs in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, staffed with both local and foreign talent.

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