Jamaica Gleaner /
Mathematics teachers at Godfrey Stewart High School in Savanna-la-Mar are putting their reputation on the line. Next year, they will join their students in writing the mathematics paper in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
This is the level of commitment displayed by the academic staff at the Westmoreland-based high school that has helped to pull up its overall effectiveness rating to satisfactory, as adjudged by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) in February 2016.
Students’ unsatisfactory performance in mathematics had previously contributed to the school receiving an overall rating of unsatisfactory by the NEI when it conducted its first inspection in March 2011. That year, an average of 11 per cent of students who sat the CSEC mathematics examination passed, which quadrupled to an average of 44 per cent in 2016.
The chief inspector had reported in March 2011 that “throughout the school, progress in mathematics is unsatisfactory, with many students showing no clear understanding of concepts that are appropriate for their grade levels”.
Referring generally to teaching methods, she observed that teachers seldom utilised other available resources like modern technology to enhance the learning experience. She noted that many lessons lacked challenge to stimulate students to extend themselves in their learning task and that the “overwhelmingly dominant mode of lesson delivery” was chalk and talk.
This is not so anymore, particularly with the teaching and learning of mathematics.
METHODS TO IMPROVE MASTERY
The mathematics team, headed by Oneal McLeod, Mathematics Teacher of the Year 2016, has been utilising a variety of methods to improve students’ mastery of the subject. For example, during their lunch breaks, students engage in math card games.
They create songs based on mathematical concepts that enabled the school to win the Math DJ King and Queen competition staged by the regional office of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Maths instructors also use video clips and other forms of technology to impart knowledge of the subject, including the formation of a WhatsApp group via mobile phone. The latest innovation is the development of tutorials to place on a YouTube channel.
“During the Easter and Christmas holidays, the principal plays a major role in supporting the holding of math camps, where three meals per day and sleepover accommodations are provided free of cost,” said Shantoya Beckford-Tomlinson, assistant head of the mathematics department. The camps are in addition to support classes held weekly by teachers without charging students.
For the past two years, students from first to fourth form who perform well in CSEC maths have been awarded $5,000 at the annual prize-giving ceremony, which is held during Student Week. This includes a church service, male and female empowerment sessions, and motivational presentations from internal/external persons.
These efforts have resulted in an increased percentage of the grade 11 cohort sitting CSEC maths examination, moving from 50 per cent in 2012 to 71 per cent in 2016. The proportion of the cohort that passed the exam has moved from five per cent to 30 per cent during the same period.
Improved performance in English language as well
Like mathematics, low performance in English language at Godfrey Stewart High School in Westmoreland had also contributed to the overall “unsatisfactory” rating of the school by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) in March 2011. The chief inspector had reported that averages for the school were “consistently below the national averages and the results have trended downwards”.
Since then, the results have been trending upwards, nearly doubling the 32 per cent average pass rate for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language in 2012 to 61 per cent in 2016. In addition, the proportion of the grade 11 cohort sitting the exam has increased from roughly half (51 per cent) to a little more than three-quarters (77 per cent). The percentage of the cohort passing the English language exam has increased from 17 per cent to 46 per cent during the five-year period under review.
“We introduce students to the CSEC syllabus by grade seven. That is spiral learning,” explained Erica Cooke, head of the language department.
She noted that all teachers in the department teach students across different grades. In addition, she monitors and documents the performance of students and teachers. Other strategies include the hosting of camps and support classes for grade 11 students, as well as parents’ conferences twice per year.
The improvement in student performance is not limited to national examinations: each teacher has been given a report card with the goal of achieving minimum 60 per cent pass rate in each internal examination. In addition, heads of department are assessed by the school board with a view to provide help to address any weaknesses, and to set performance targets.
Principal Theobold Fearon credits his management team for the improvements that the school has been making, but members are quick to point to his guidance and leadership. This involves the preparation of a manual for all heads of department, which he uses to monitor activities on visits to classes.
First-class clothing laboratory
Godfrey Stewart High School in Westmoreland is also performing well in other subjects. There is a first-class clothing laboratory, and during the recent summer holiday, students gained work experience in making school uniforms as part of a parent-teacher association (PTA) fundraising initiative.
In recent times, the home economics department, in collaboration with the 4-H Club, has earned 10 first-place awards and two second places to be crowned the top school in the region in National 4-H Club Movement.
In addition, Godfrey Stewart High was named the most outstanding school in the parish for 2017 by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC). The school won seven gold, 15 silver and 13 bronze medals in the JCDC parish competition.
Meanwhile, principal Theobold Fearon welcomes the school’s breakfast programme that benefits some 500 students.
“It has impacted greatly on attendance and punctuality, and has a direct impact on students’ performance,” he noted.
The breakfast programme is operated by the PTA under the leadership of President Neville Wilson, who disclosed that it is funded by two overseas chapters of the alumni association and local donors.
Members of the academic staff continue to pursue professional development, with three persons exposed to training by the National College for Educational Leadership.
Vice-principal Emily Lawrence-Ricketts indicated that, following the example of the maths teachers, other subject teachers will write the relevant CSEC examinations over time.