The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with teacher-training institutions, will embark on a vigorous recruitment drive to identify potential candidates from the secondary school cohort for its Mathematics and Science scholarship programmes. The Education Ministry is seeking to attract 200 persons in the first year to be qualified at first degree level to teach mathematics, and a similar number for the sciences. The scholarships will provide full tuition except for miscellaneous costs, support for boarding where needed and a stipend to help cover the cost of books and other supplies.
The programmes will cost $412 million in the first year of implementation and total $1.2 billion to complete training the first batch of pre-service and in-service teachers. Successful candidates will be bonded for a period of not less than five years and will be required to sign an agreement noting that they may be deployed by the Ministry of Education upon completion of the course of study. This approach will allow the Ministry of Education to identify schools that have critical needs and to ensure that they are able to benefit from the increased availability of qualified teachers.
Over 490 mathematics and science teachers are estimated to have left the secondary level of the system between the 2014 and 2015 academic years. While, about 22 per cent of the approximately 1800 teachers deployed to the secondary system are fully qualified. As an interim measure, since 2014, the Ministry of Education introduced a cadre of Mathematics specialists and coaches in primary and secondary schools to assist teachers. This, along with in-service training, has resulted in significant improvements in teaching and learning outcomes.
The grade-four numeracy rate moved from 49 per cent in 2011 to 67 per cent in 2015. Mathematics passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination increased significantly three years in a row, moving from 42 per cent in 2012 to 62 per cent in 2015.
However according to Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, these positive education outcomes are being undermined by the continued attrition from the system of the already scarce supply of qualified Mathemtics teachers. “A similar situation exists with our supply of science teachers. There is inadequate access to quality science education at the secondary level where only some 5,000 of the average 40,000 students sitting CSEC examination annually choose a science subject,” Thwaites said.
To qualify for the scholarship, candidates should have passes in CSEC Mathematics and English, Grade I or II at CSEC in the subject(s) they will be prepared to teach and passes in the subject(s) of choice at CAPE 1 or 2. Dr Tamika Benjamin, National Mathematics Coordinator said with the recent award of scholarships that saw more than 100 applications the Ministry is optimistic that with the availability of funding there will be an increase in the number of applications to the various teacher training institutions. “Graduates of the high school system are our prime target as they are preparing to enter tertiary and looking for options. Recruitment will be focused on them but wider advertising will provide an opportunity for others not in the main target groups who have an interest to be included,” Benjamin said.
Minister Thwaites indicated that the Education Ministry will also provide in-service training opportunities to teachers currently engaged in the classroom who need to upgrade their qualification to meet the required standard. “This would apply to approximately 1,400 secondary level teachers who fall in this category. The Ministry of Education has asked the teacher training institutions (including the University of the West Indies) to design and deliver a hybrid (online and face-to-face) programme over two years which will provide these teachers with the opportunity to upgrade their qualifications while keeping disruptions to the education system at a minimum,” Thwaites said.
Thwaites indicated that it is being proposed that 700 teachers access the programme in years 1 and 2 with the remaining 700 teachers beginning in year 3 and completing in year 4.
In the interim, two short term measures will be temporarily employed to help meet the current demand for mathematics and science teachers. These are the contractual engagement of suitably qualified retired teachers on a part-time basis and the contractual engagement of persons employed to the private sector whose first degree is in one of the areas of specialization identified.
Interested persons will be immersed in a short course designed to prepare them for the classroom where necessary. These individuals will be engaged to serve at Grades 10 – 13.
The Ministry of Education will also accelerate the use of Information Communication Technology to aid in the teaching and learning of Mathematics and Science. In addition to materials made available through the Education Broadcasting Network, the Ministry has partnered with several private sector entities to provide access to online or virtual educational resources. In due course the Ministry will announce these arrangements.