STEM for economic growth

STEM for economic growth

Business reporter

Sunday, December 08, 2019

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In a mission to propel economic growth and prepare the Jamaican workforce to function in a digital economy, the STEM for Growth Taskforce on Wednesday sought to garner support for a National STEM Centre to be sited at The Mico University College in Kingston.

STEM for Growth Taskforce, spearheaded by business leaders Dr Glen Christian, chairman of the Cari-Med Group, and Gary “Butch” Hendrickson, chairman and chief executive officer of National Baking Company, aims to lend the leadership of the private sector to the force to create an embedded science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels of the education system, with a major focus on teacher education and support.

Speaking at the STEM for Growth Taskforce's consultative breakfast meeting at Pegasus Hotel, Christian implored that the private sector is the engine of growth in any economy and must consider human resource not as expenditure, but an investment.

“Our objective is to create a vision of Jamaica as a STEM nation and to enlist [the private sector's] input and support for practical steps we need to take to make this a reality. For the implications of future competitive advantage, we need to innovate and create value,” he declared.

“If we don't have the skilled, qualified people who are analytical, innovative, creative, we won't get an increase in production. We can't win without trained and skilled people in our business — we won't get far. We are not talking about creating an elite set of mathematicians or scientists — we believe in STEM for all. It's about giving our people the tools to think creatively and solve problems at every level,” he continued.

According to him, the National STEM Centre at The Mico University College will serve as a nucleus for collaboration with other teaching institutions, schools and businesses, to improve the performance of students in science and mathematics.

He further added that the choice to house the centre at Mico is well-placed, due to the institution's long-standing focus on STEM education for regional teachers.

Meanwhile, Hendrickson declared that the force aims to launch the centre in August 2020.

The goals of the National STEM Centre are to develop a state-of-the-art STEM-focused, learning research and innovation facility for teacher training and student learning.

According to Dr Albert Benjamin, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology of The Mico University College, the centre will require US $1.5 million to be completed.

He later indicated to the Jamaica Observer that the American Friends of Jamaica, a not-for-profit organisation, through the fund-raising gala held last month in New York in honour of Usain Bolt and Dr Christian, raised some US$40,000.

“There are jobs that are going to be present or available now that Jamaicans cannot benefit from. The [launch date] is an aggressive target, but we really have no time to waste, and that's why I like the aggression because we are really behind,” Benjamin told the Sunday Finance.

“In 2015, the National Education Inspectorate published a study of the [education] system, indicating that the challenges that [Jamaica] were having wasn't so much about teachers who didn't have the right qualifications to teach a subject, but about their qualifications in relations to pedagogy — how to teach. People don't realise that teaching is actually a science; there are ways to get people to learn and ways to make mistakes when getting people to learn — and that's a part of what we want to do at the centre,” he continued.

In developing the centre, a study tour will be conducted in January to India's Homi Bhabha Centre For Science Education and the National STEM Learning Centre at the University of York in the UK, to study and emulate the models implemented.

The STEM Centre will be integrated into the teaching and learning process at Mico and also support in-service teachers. In addition, there will be constant workshops throughout the year at the centre, based on research, to upskill teachers, and an annual, national problem solving competition to solve community-based problems and reduce school drop-out rates and increase the number of students who want to pursue STEM subjects.

The dean also called on the Government of Jamaica to create a policy foundation for the centre.

“We would like the Government, by law, to [declare] the National STEM Centre the official centre for teaching and learning research in the STEM areas, and for the preparation of such teachers. Once it is designated that way, other support will come to make it sustainable. The centre will have to have a director and staff, and Mico cannot support that on its own,” Benjamin said.

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