Experts Assisting with Training of Math Teachers In Jamaica

KINGSTON, Jamaica – A team of experts, led by Tamika Benjamin, former National Mathematics Coordinator of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Education Transformation Programme, recently conducted a two month assessment of six high schools under the Mutual Building Societies Foundation’s (MBSF) Centres of Excellence programme; and has made recommendations to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in high schools.

“We identified the use of didactic and expository approaches to teaching as one of the main downfall of teachers,” Mrs. Benjamin said, noting that lessons were centred on procedure rather than concept development.

The six schools under The Victoria Mutual Building Society and Jamaica National Building Society sponsored programme are: McGrath High in St. Catherine; Seaforth High in St. Thomas; Green Pond High in St. James; Godfrey Stewart in Westmoreland and Mile Gully and Porus High in Manchester. They were assessed in November and December last year, as part of the drive to strengthen teaching methodologies in these schools.

It was recommended that teaching strategies be improved to engage students; and that continual training programmes be implemented to assist them to improve their knowledge base; and to maintain best practices, as well as awareness of the paradigm shifts in the discipline. In addition, schools should implement structured Math Department meetings to plan effective lessons and intervention strategies for students..

“You need to be more engaging so that your students are not bored,” the frank-speaking Mrs. Benjamin told teachers at a workshop in Priory, St. Ann, recently.

She also pointed out that, “It is not the students who are not learning, it is the lesson delivery that is tripping you up and causing the problems with poor retention.”

Mrs. Benjamin was supported by colleague, former Regional Math Coordinator, Mrs. Novlet Plunkett, who noted that lessons needed to be more student-centred. “There is a need for more active discourse between the teachers and the students in the classroom and more interaction,” she emphasised.

Highlighting that only 49 percent of the teaching staff in the schools was trained in mathematics education, and that a further 15.6 percent did not have CSEC or GCE level Math, Mrs. Benjamin stated that continual training was crucial to improving both teacher and student performance.

“What will make the difference is your attitude and commitment. Even though you may not be trained to teach the subject area… what you need to do is to take advantage of every training opportunity that comes your way to improve yourself,” she said.

The team recommended that, in addition to training programmes, common planning meetings led by the heads of the Mathematics Departments should include regular activities to keep teachers stimulated and reminded of mathematical concepts. This was suggested, given that only 21 percent of the teachers received fair scores on a test designed by the expert team to determine the level of knowledge they possessed on a wide range of mathematical models.

“If you don’t use something you will lose it; therefore, you need to constantly remind yourselves about the basic concepts and theories to keep yourselves ahead of your students,” she explained.

Mrs. Benjamin noted that heads of departments must ensure that these common planning meetings are held regularly and are not optional for teachers to attend.

In addition, the team also recommended that the schools videotape classes in an effort to capture best practices that can be used as benchmarks.

Dr. Renee Rattray (foreground), Programme Manager of the Mutual Building Societies Foundation (MBSF), makes a point to math teachers during a workshop at the Seacrest Beach Hotel in Priory, St. Ann recently.

Dr. Renee Rattray, Programme Manager of the MBSF, confirmed that each school under the Centres of Excellence programme will be provided with video cameras to assist them with recording practices that can be incorporated into training and planning.

Mrs. Benjamin said the data gathered from the assessment of the schools will allow her team to provide the necessary guidance and support in the development and implementation of the Mathematics Strategic Plan.

Tamika Benjamin, former National Mathematics Coordinator of the Ministry of Education’s Education Transformation Programme, makes a presentation to teachers during a workshop at the Seacrest Beach Hotel in Priory, St. Ann.

She said the workshop, which is the first in a series, will be followed by regular visits to individual schools, where targeted support will be provided in finalizing their strategic plans and intervention programmes. She pointed out that teachers and principals will be assisted to identify and develop the types of targeted support needed to improve performance; as well as to organise job-embedded professional development training for teachers of Mathematics.

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