Monday, May 23, 2016

Diagnostic Testing of Basic School Children in Jamaica

Rose Davies
          In the past, the curriculum in Jamaican primary schools tended to be knowledge based with an emphasis on factual information to be learnt by rote rather than a learning-how-to-learn approach. The one-size-fits-all method of imparting information does not allow for differences in learning styles and rates by different children. The result of this approach has been that some children get left behind and turned off education, so at the end of 11 years of schooling too many end up with no qualifications. Some drop out of the system without having basic literacy and numeracy skills.
To address this problem, the Ministry of Education introduced the Grade 4 literacy test to identify children not performing at that level. They were required to have mastery in that test before being allowed to take the Grade Six Achievement Test. Because some children did not do so before being of age to enter secondary school, the Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) was introduced. (See my blog post of March 22) It became obvious to those administering ASTEP that an earlier intervention was desirable. Then came GOILP – Grade One Individual Learning Profile, with children who were deemed not ready for Grade 1 being placed in a separate class.
        With the work of the Early Childhood Commission  over the last 10 or more years, there has been a great improvement in the standards of Jamaica’s Basic Schools. The great importance of early childhood education and early detection of learning difficulties has come to be recognized. After several years of preparation, the ECC on May 10 and 11, 2016, administered its first diagnostic testing of 4-year-olds in over 2000 Early Childhood Institutions, with the purpose of finding out whether a child has a specific learning disability or learning disorder with another cause, or even a behavior disorder, so that appropriate interventions can take place at the earliest possible time.  Interventions will be made by Regional Special Needs Coordinators and Regional Assessment Teams consisting of 2 psychologists and 2 diagnosticians. There is ongoing training of teachers in the area of special education. (See my blog post of April 14)

In the Sunday Gleaner of May 22, 2016, Rose Davies expressed her concerns about the methods of testing 4-year-olds, in an article entitled Cautions on Early Childhood Assessment. I share those concerns. I can understand the aim of the Early Childhood Commission that the assessment be as objective as possible, but as Mrs. Davies points out, that is hard to achieve with young children. Surely it would be reasonable to have in addition some subjective assessment also by the teachers who work with these children every day? Mrs. Davies also expressed concern about the absence of public information leading to the rollout of this assessment.
          In an article entitled  Pressure For Primary School Students - Pupils Face Four Prime Tests In Six Years” by Deika Morrison in The Gleaner of April 25, 2012, she wrote: (highlighting is mine).
Deika Morrison
      “The Early Childhood Commission (ECC), mandated to supervise and regulate the early childhood sector, is about to begin working on a national-evaluation tool for four year olds. They need to be evaluated for real readiness in the main developmental areas - gross and fine motor skills (gross means big movements like running, fine means small movements like picking up things with finger), speech, social skills, emotional skills, brain development and their approach to learning.

          According to the ECC, this evaluation tool will be specifically designed for Jamaican children and meant to identify what kind of support children need to go forward in the primary-school system. The idea is to be able to identify, before they enter primary school, which of the three categories children fall into: 1) need no additional support in the regular school environment 2) need additional support in the regular school environment or 3) need a specialised school environment.
           Chance for intervention
           The evaluation will be timed to allow for a full year of intervention for those lagging developmentally, as well as specialised attention if needs be. The bottom line is that four year olds don't need a four-year-old version of GSAT. If we are to get the maximum return for the necessary investment in early childhood education, then we must have appropriate tools - which we agree on as a nation - to identify the problems and deal with them appropriately.
          It is time for child-centric interventions, like evaluations that can best help children. We don't know when the ECC evaluation tool will be implemented, but we know we don't have 18 years to 2030 for all of our children to fully master the basics.”

In addition to carrying out diagnostic tests with the best of intentions, the ECC and MOE need to educate parents on the purpose of the testing – it is not to label a child as dumb or bright, nor is it to punish a child who performs poorly in a test. It is to find out the best way of helping children to learn and to grow up to become productive, healthy, well-adjusted members of society.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cruising to Montego Bay and Skagway - the fortunes of 2 railway lines

Remains of Railway Station at Catadupa
Jamaica boasts the first railway line to be built outside Europe and North America. It began with a 15 mile stretch in 1845. In the 1890's extensions were carried through difficult country to Montego Bay and Port Antonio. However, it was closed to the public in 1992, because of recurring losses, a backlog of deferred maintenance and deterioration of stock and buildings. An attempt to reopen it to the public was made in 2011, but the trial period indicated that it would again be a loss-making venture, so it was closed in 2012.  Only the lines used by bauxite trains are still in service. Could the railway ever succeed in breaking even? Mike Henry, Transport Minister in the recently elected JLP administration, thinks so.

     Prior to its closure, a tourist attraction called the Governor's Coach, travelled by rail from Montego Bay up into the hills through Anchovy, Montpelier and  Cambridge to Catadupa, where you could choose fabric for a dress, be measured and pick up the dress on your return journey.
 The next stop at Ipswich was long enough for you to go and explore the caves. Then there was a gradual descent to Maggotty, and the final stop was Appleton, where lunch was served. I believe it was also possible to include the Appleton Estate Rum Factory Tour which is now accessed by road.
After lunch, you returned to Montego Bay seeing the spectacular scenery from a different perspective. The distance one way is 36 miles.

Another railway frequented by cruise ship passengers is that from Skagway, in Alaska, to White Pass and Yukon, completed in 1900 in response to a Gold Rush, which was soon over. However, the White Pass and Yukon Route  survived by diversifying to encompass wharves, hotels, aircraft, buses, pipelines, trucks and ships. In 1955 it pioneered the 'Container Route' moving containers by ship, train and truck. In spite of these innovations, it shut down as a fully integrated transport company in 1982, only to reopen as a tourist attraction in 1988.
In winter, Skagway has a population of 800, which swells to 2000 in the summer. The number of cruisers for 2016 is projected to be 791, 260 on a total of 29 ships, making 389 ports of call. The largest number of ports of call by any ship was 22, representing 22 weeks from mid-April to mid-September, the weather being unfavorable for the rest of the year. The primary attraction for cruisers in Skagway is the railway.  
Train negotiating a curve and a steep incline
The railway climbs to a height of 2,865 feet over a distance of 20.4 miles.
Bridal Veil Falls
There are many waterfalls fed by snow melt.
Steel Bridge
Constructed in 1901, the steel bridge was the  tallest cantilever bridge in the world. Since 1969, a replacement bridge has been used.
Skagway and Lynn  Canal in the distance
Lynn Canal is part of the inside passage of the Pacific Ocean.

The views from the railway in Jamaica are no less spectacular. The branch from Montego Bay to Anchovy climbs to a height of about 2000 ft in 7 miles.
Many cruise ship and other visitors would probably be interested in taking a scenic train ride as an alternative to travelling the whole way by road to several tourist attractions.
These include Croydon in the Mountains, near Catadupa:

YS Falls, 5 miles from Maggotty, is a nature-based attraction consisting of seven waterfalls, cascading into natural pools surrounded by lush gardens and magnificent trees. You can take a canopy ride above the falls as well as swimming in the pools.
YS Falls

One of the natural pools where you can swim at YS
In Maggotty itself is the Apple Valley Water Park, which is a popular venue for school visits and could be accessed by train from Kingston. 
Apple Valley Water Park
In Appleton, there is Appleton Rum Factory Tour.

Could the railway become financially viable by including 'Tourist Attraction' to its other functions, i.e. carrying bauxite, public transport, and transport of goods (the newly opened highway has not proved to be ideal for trucks carrying heavy loads as sections of it are too steep). 
Jamaica had an average of about 1.4 million cruise ship visitors to the ports of Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios in 2013 and 2014, and more are projected for 2016, in addition to 2 million stop-over visitors, making a total of 3.4 million, more than 4 times the number visiting Skagway. Of course, there are many more attractions available to tourists, all of whom would not be interested in taking a trip by rail. However, with proper maintenance of the railway and marketing it as an attraction, I think this is an opportunity which could be explored.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Learning Disorders - The Struggle is Real Part 3

This is the 3rd of 3 posts I am writing about a Symposium “Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists (AFP), a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. In my first post I wrote about Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon’s presentation on “Our Journey with ASTEP”; and in my second about Mr. Karl Watson’s talk about what the MOE is doing to address the needs of students with learning disorders. In my final post I examine the nature of some of these disorders as explained by Ms. Georgia Rose and Dr. Susaye Rattigan.
Before these two speakers, AFP showed a second video in which they asked students on campus:
“Should children with learning difficulties be in special schools?” Several students opined that they should be. 
“How would you feel if your child were in a class with a child with a learning disorder?” Students expressed the opinion that the child with a learning disorder would take a disproportionate amount of the teacher’s time.
“What steps would you take if your child had a learning disorder?” Students said that they would try to get the best possible help for their child.
          Ms. Georgia Rose is the coordinator of Undergraduate Psychology Programmes at UWIWC. She specializes in learning disorders and works at Cornwall Regional Hospital. She has an MA from UWI and is interested in developmental disorders. She addressed the questions raised in the students’ video and gave examples from her own experience. She referred to DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The focus of this symposium was on learning disorders, namely dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty with writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers). However, these learning disorders don’t exist in isolation. A child who has difficulty learning to read is often labelled as ‘dunce’ by other children. He knows he’s not dunce in other respects, doesn’t know why he’s having this difficulty, but would prefer to be called ‘bad’ than ‘dunce’.
Andre, 15 year-old, grade 9, semi-literate (about grade 3), told Ms. Rose, “No matter how hard I try, I never seem to get it. Everything is a mess. Sometimes it look clear and another time me cannot mek it out … me rather be bad bwoy than dunce bwoy.” Hence, the learning disability gives rise to behavior problems. Parents are distressed when children are not learning and may punish them, even using corporal punishment.
The cause of learning disorders are thought to be abnormalities in the way the neurons connect to each other in the brain, or in the functioning of the chemicals in the brain. The result is that individuals have problems receiving, processing or communicating information in the same way as other children. The reasons for these abnormalities include biological, psychological and social conditions. Among the biological conditions are genetic causes, problems during pregnancy or birth, general medical conditions, seizures and nutrition. Psychological causes include exposure to early trauma; neglect; emotional, sexual and physical abuse. Social conditions include socioeconomic status and reduced access to interventions.

Statistics show that more boys than girls; and more children from the lower socioeconomic strata suffer from learning disabilities. Reading difficulty is the more prevalent disorder in the English speaking world. To me, this is not surprising, as so many rules of phonics cannot be applied. You pronounce ‘ough’ differently in each of the following words: dough, plough, through, rough and cough! Whereas in Spanish phonics can be relied on to decode words. The following idea was not mentioned in the Symposium, but it would probably help many Jamaican children to learn to read in Jamaican Creole, whose written form is entirely phonetic and whose grammar and syntax is familiar to the children.

Ms. Rose posed the questions, “Whose responsibility it is to provide education for children with learning disabilities? The public or private sector? Would we be prepared to pay more taxes for these children to be taught in special schools?” In regular schools, children with learning disabilities tend to be preyed upon, but it is more cost-effective to teach them in regular schools in pull-out classrooms for some of the time.
Labelling these children as disabled is unfortunate, as they are not unable, they are differently abled. Many dyslectics are gifted artists, singers (e.g. Harry Belafonte) and actors (e.g. Tom Cruise). Children’s author and book illustrator, Patricia Polacco, describes her own struggles with dyslexia in her book “Thank you, Mr. Falker” – the teacher who recognized her problem and helped her.  (It is known that 1 in 7 persons in the USA has some kind of learning disorder. ) Ms. Rose’s final appeal was that none of us should discriminate.

          Dr. Susaye Rattigan, a clinical psychologist, had an interactive session with us up and singing before she started her address. Her main theme was that we are all learn differently and that the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. She reminded us that the term ‘Learning Disability’ doesn’t include those who have learning problems resulting from visual, hearing or motor handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage. However, a detailed interview with a psychologist is necessary for a diagnosis. Whatever the reasons for children’s failure to learn at school, we should be moving towards an empathetic understanding of children’s problems.
     Dr. Rattigan recounted the story of Thomas Edison, who, on his last day of formal schooling, was given a note which read, “Your son is an idiot. Keep him at home.” His mother told him that the letter said that he was too brilliant to be taught at that school and that she should home-school him, which she did.
     Dr. Rattigan reminded us of the quote attributed to Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This was to illustrate the idea that a learning disability is not a disability but a different ability.
          A change in environment may be needed. She gave the example of a little girl brought to her because she couldn’t talk, which was hardly surprising since she was brought up by a deaf-mute grandmother and a mother who barely spoke. In spite of reservations, the girl’s mother followed Dr. Rattigan’s advice to send her to school. A year later, they couldn’t stop her talking! There is a natural inclination of us all to learn, but we aren’t meant to be alike. We should teach in the way that a child wants to learn, whether that is through books, art, movement or any other medium. We were challenged to try to see the world as a dyslexic child would. A question and answer session followed Dr. Rattigan’s address.
I would like to thank the Association of Future Psychologists for putting on this symposium and inviting me to attend. I apologize for  taking so long to complete the blogs, but better late than never!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real Part 2

Mr. Karl Watson
This is the 2nd of 3 posts I am writing about a Symposium “Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists, a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. Mr. Karl Watson was the final speaker at the symposium, but what he had to say flows logically from Dr. Shaw Salmon’s presentation, the subject of my 1st post. She told us about the children who end up in Grade 7 with poor or non-existent reading abilities. Mr. Watson, who is a Regional Special Needs Coordinator with the Ministry of Education, explained the strategies which will be used to identify and address children’s special needs at the earliest possible time. He was an entertaining speaker, frequently replacing his references to “the government” by “sorry, the previous government”, it being only a week after the general election. I am sure he is happy that the new minister has assured the nation that policies will remain the same. He began his address by pinpointing some of the landmarks in Special Education, and lamenting some attitudes.
      For children with special needs:
  1928 saw the establishment of the Salvation Army School for the Blind, and in
  1938  Rev. F.W. Gilby established the Jamaica Schoolfor the Deaf .
     There was no provision for children with intellectual disabilities until 1956, when the Randolph Lopez School of Hope was established.
      In 1975 Jamaica benefitted from a bi-lateral arrangement with the Netherlands government, through which the following were established:
  • A formal teacher training programme in special education at the Mico Teachers’ College (now Mico University College)
  • The Mico Child Assessment and Research in Education (CARE) Centre for diagnostic and therapeutic services for children across the region.
  • Seven (7) self-contained special education units in primary schools, offering intensive instruction for children with special educational needs
At that time, there was reluctance among primary schools to house the special education units because of the stigma attached to special ed. children. Mr. Watson found, during a feasibility study he conducted 3 years ago, that the fear of stigmatization still exists.  
In developed countries, the pendulum has swung from having special schools to including children with special needs having their needs addressed in mainstream schooling. The debate continues about whether this is the best approach. In Jamaica, in 2004, a Task Force on Educational Reform presented its findings to the Ministry of Education, resulting in the Education System Transformation Programme  (ESTP). Implementation of the recommendations has been ongoing since 2005. Among the major activities of ESTP is the improvement of provisions for Special Education.

To effect these improvements, a National Special Needs Coordinator (Dr. Meredith) was appointed, together with Regional Special Needs Coordinators for each of the 7 regions. Regional Assessment Teams consisting of 2 psychologists and 2 diagnosticians were set up. One of their first activities was to identify children with special needs – 7628 were identified in 302 schools. In response, work has begun to establish 20 additional pull-out classrooms and 2 additional self-contained Special Ed Units. A system of early identification and referral, supported by Regional Assessment Teams has begun. The MOE continues to provide examination accommodation for children sitting national examinations.

Over 3000 teachers and MOE personel  have benefitted from training in several areas including strategies to identify special educational needs; Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders; Proficiency Pathway: A guide for instruction and intervention at the primary level; and Positive Behaviour Support and restorative discipline.

The Special Education Unit in the MOE cannot operate in isolation and requires the support of other agencies. Aspects of support include    
  • Continued collaboration with the Guidance Counseling Unit of the MoE; and the Child Guidance Clinic of the Ministry of Health.
  • The recently launched diagnostic and therapy clinic for pre-school children at VOUCH, in conjunction with the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (October 2014).
  • Mobilization for the establishment of three diagnostic centres at Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College in St James, Church Teachers’ College in Manchester, and the College of Agriculture Science and Education in Portland. These are scheduled for completion by 2016. 

There will also be more public education for parents with regards to special ed.

The most important step in providing education tailored to suit every individual is the early identification of their needs. Hence the introduction of assessment before grade 1. Based on this assessment each child would be deemed ready, not quite ready or not ready and taught accordingly. At the end of Grade 2, there is a diagnostic test to monitor progress. Towards the end of Grade 4, there will continue to be literacy and numeracy tests. In 2018, GSAT will be replaced by the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) will be replaced by Alternative Pathways for Secondary Education (APSE).
At the launch of APSE

At every level in the education system, efforts will be made to teach children in the way they can learn and for them to use their abilities to the optimum. Quoting from the Nathan Ebanks Foundation Conference on Inclusion “Creating Pathways to Inclusive Education”:
The outcome we desire cannot be accomplished with ‘chalk and talk’; as Aristotle said: ‘Educating the mind, without educating the heart is no education at all’. We need the engagement and involvement of all concerned at every level, since ‘Education is not preparation for life ... education is life itself’ (John Dewey).




Monday, March 28, 2016

Shifting Sands at Doctor's Cave Beach

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the way in which hurricanes, storms, tides and currents shift the sand at Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay. However, first here is a little history, taken from Doctor’s Cave website.
   It began in 1906 when Dr. Alexander James McCatty generously donated his beach property to found a bathing club in Montego Bay. The Club got its name because it was used by Dr. McCatty and his friends, who were mainly from the medical profession and, at that time they entered the tiny beach through a cave. The cave however, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932. The water which is crystal clear has a temperature range, winter and summer from 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 to 28 Celcius.
     In the end of early 1920's, Sir Herbert Barker, a famous British Osteopath visited the beach and later published an article boosting it by declaring that the waters have curative powers and that he was restored to good health after bathing there. He said the waters could cure several ailments. This heightened the allure of the beach and Doctor's Cave became famous overnight as foreigners, many rich and famous came to try the water. Hotels were built in the immediate vicinity and thus began the tourist trade.

The following information is taken from History of Doctor’s Cave by Emile Martin in Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club 80th Anniversary Souvenir. (1986)
In 1932, a hurricane destroyed the cave and as a result the entire layout of the bathing club saw drastic changes with considerable improvements to the facility. With better accessibility, the large beach came into its own.
In the 1940’s another severe hurricane swept away much of this beach and the trustees employed an American expert, Sidney Makepeace Wood, to restore it. He designed and built concrete groynes to harness sand-bearing tides and currents. As a result, the beach grew to about 20 times the original size.

         At one point there was a diving platform at the end of the west groin, but it collapsed into the sea during a storm. The remains of it can be seen encrusted with corals.
        The photographs below show changes in the beach over a period of seven years.
August 2009

In this photo, taken in August 2009, you can barely see the top of a concrete column sticking up above the sand, and sand comes to within about a foot of the top of the walkway. Many years ago there was much less sand on the beach and this walkway was a jetty to which boats could be tied.

November 2012, after Hurricane Sandy

The next two photos were taken in November, 2012, about a week after hurricane Sandy had scoured away the sand under the walkway. The two concrete columns are completely exposed.
The picket fence was erected at the end of the walkway soon after these photos were taken.
November 2012, after Hurricane Sandy

By November 2014, the sand had built up again under the walkway, completely covered the concrete columns and extended further into the sea, entirely as a result of forces of nature.
November 2014

November 2014. The sign warning of concrete columns
under the sand may appear superfluous to the unwary.

View of eastern end, August 2009

At the eastern end of the beach also there is a cycle of sand building up and being washed away by the action of the sea.

In 2015, part of the groin broke away. Waves surged in and gouged out a section of the beach in a matter of days.
Breach in the groin, March 2015
 When a gabion basket filled with rocks was put in the breach, the beach came back again equally quickly.

February 2016. Rough weather piles up more sand on the beach.

The effects of the weather are no less dramatic under the sea surface. During calm weather, assorted seaweeds and turtle grass thrive. During hurricanes and winter storms, tons of sand churned by water scour rocks and the sea-bottom, ripping them away. Roots of turtle grass remain, new leaves soon sprouting from them. Dome-shaped flower, star and brain corals in the reefs withstand many storms, but the branching staghorn corals are easily broken and survive only in sheltered pockets. As reefs and turtle grass beds serve to protect the beach from erosion, every effort should be made to preserve them, including allowing parrot fish to live.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Learning Disorders Symposium UWI WJC Part 1

 When I volunteered to assist grade 2 students at Chetwood Memorial Primary School with learning to read, I became aware that some of them had specific problems which I was unqualified to diagnose and treat.  Mrs. Campbell, the principal, told me that, even if they were diagnosed, there were insufficient facilities to accommodate them, so the school had no choice but to move them through the grades.  It is heartbreaking that many children gain very little from their experience at school, and in the process become frustrated and alienated. However, efforts are now being made to give these children assistance.
I was pleased to hear more about this in a Symposium
“Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists, a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. This symposium addressed learning disabilities in addition to other reasons why children don’t learn.    
     The need for this symposium was highlighted in a video in which the following questions were posed to students on the campus: “What are learning disorders? Can you name them? What schools in Western Jamaica cater to students with learning disorders?” The responses showed that many students knew very little about this subject.
Anita Baker,
President, Association of
Future Psychologists

In her welcome, Anita Baker, President of The Future Psychologists service club, stressed that learning disorders affect not only the children with these disorders, but also their parents and families. Pointing out that a learning disorder may not always be detrimental, she quoted from the actor Orlando Blume, who labelled dyslexia “a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively”.

Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon
The first speaker was Dr. Ann Shaw Salmon, D. Phil (NCU); MSc in Educational Leadership (Conn State University); BA. She began her teaching career with a diploma from Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College. She is now the dynamic, optimistic, Principal of Mt Salem Primary and Junior High. She spoke about “Our Journey with ASTEP”.

ASTEP – Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme was introduced in 2011 to cater to students who had failed 4 attempts at the Grade 4 Literacy Test and were therefore ineligible to sit GSAT (Grade 6 Achievement Test) to qualify for a place in Grade 7 in a secondary programme. 163 schools were designated as ASTEP centres, which were supposed to be staffed with extra teachers and physical resources. At Mt Salem Primary and Junior High 73 students were tested and ranged from remedial to requiring special education. 14% were below pre-primary level, 36% were at pre-primary level, 36% were at primary level (i.e. ready for grade 1) and the others at grades 1 and 2.
     The reasons for the students’ poor performance were not only learning disabilities – dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, but some also suffered from disruptive behaviour disorders such as ADD, ADH and conduct disorders; and some were emotionally disturbed. Their learning problems included learned hopelessness, defensiveness (making excuses), fear of failure, anxiety and alienation. They had difficulties with remembering, had poor social interactions, were easily annoyed, “giddy in the head”, disruptive, loud and boisterous. They used indecent language, they played truant and were involved in fighting, stone-throwing, gambling and stealing.
     They had no parental guidance and had poor nutrition. They were in need of love and affection, patience and guidance. Some students were grieving the loss of parents or other close relatives; some were barrel children i.e. parents were abroad;  some were latch-key children with parents working, so not there for them; some parents were in prison. Some parents refused to cooperate with the school and were unwilling to get help with parenting. Given this scenario, it is a wonder that the ASTEP Centres were able to do anything.
     However, the Mt Salem centre turned out to be a model to be emulated. Dr. Shaw Salmon found that if the teachers show love, there is success. The students at this centre, in addition to being taught basic literacy and numeracy, were also taught skills, including how to make natural juices, and cooking, including making pizza. They had outside presenters and went to the craft market to learn how to make bracelets and necklaces. They also had an agricultural project, and a band. These activities showed the students the importance of being literate and numerate. Having received this special attention, they were encouraged to give back to those less fortunate than themselves.
     In spite of these achievements, the ASTEP  programme is being phased out and replaced by a series of tests in the lower grades of the primary schools, designed to allow for earlier diagnosis and intervention. Mr. Karl Watson from the Ministry of Education was the  speaker at the symposium who addressed this topic. I will write about this in a future blog post.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mosquitoes for Science Projects in Schools Part 2

Having made suggestions for science projects involving mosquitoes in my blog of January 20, 2016, I  set up a simple experiment to find out whether Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will lay eggs in water with or without dead leaves in it, in the shade or in the sun. 4 jars were set up accordingly. A second purpose was to follow the life cycle of A. aegypti, photograph the different stages and find out how long it takes from egg to adult. The experiment produced rather unexpected results, so may require some modifications, which I have suggested in an edited version of the previous blog post. I should have learnt a lesson here: "Don't suggest an experiment without trying it first", but had I done so, I mightn't have written the blog!

Jars set up to be placed in sun or shade
with or without dead leaves.
Which do mosquitoes prefer?
The jars were set up on Feb 7, 2016. As of Feb 9, there were no eggs.

March 3, 2016. Still no eggs!
    March 3, 2016 - still no eggs, nor larvae. I have decided to abandon this experiment and comment on why it didn't proceed as planned.
1. The week following setting up the experiment, it rained every day and there was little sun. The jars put in the sun filled up and overflowed with rainwater. (I poured off some of it.)
2. I may have put too many leaves in the jars. As they rotted, they depleted the water of oxygen. Whether this would affect larvae, I don't know, as they do come to the surface of the water for air, but it would certainly make it more difficult to see them.
3. Leaves fell into the jars without dead leaves, so they were no longer accurate controls. Algae started to grow in the jar without dead leaves in the sun. This would also provide food for potential mosquito larvae.
4. The failure of this experiment doesn't mean there were no Aedes around. I observed larvae in other containers, such as a bowl I use to water orchids. I disposed of most of them, but kept a few in a jar with a lid so that I could confirm that the adults, when they hatched out, were indeed Aedes, and they were.
5. Another drawback to this experiment is that young larvae are so small they are hard to see.
Final stage larvae of Aedes,
barely 1 cm long.

            I had suggested this experiment for primary school children, but it might be more suitable as a project for students of biology doing CSEC or CAPE (Caribbean exams.) It would be useful for them to have access to a microscope or a binocular microscope so that they could observe young larvae.
             A more suitable activity for primary school children would be for them to hunt for existing mosquito breeding  sites and record the conditions under which the larvae of Aedes were found. A follow-up activity, ridding the environment of these breeding sites, needs to be an on going one.  My own observation is that Aedes are more prevalent after about a week of fine weather following a period of heavy rains.
      Another source of confusion in relation to mosquitoes is that there are so many similar species, identifiable more by their habits than appearance. Aedes breeds close to human habitation, not  in forests - the Cockpit Country is full of mosquitoes, none of them Aedes. Mosquito larvae found in bromeliads or Traveller's Palm are unlikely to be those of Aedes, and it is hard for the casual observer to distinguish between the larvae of different species of mosquito.
        However, the behavior of the adult Aedes is well known to us. We know they are hard to swat and quickly fly off, while another species sitting on your arm feeding will allow you to swat her. The reason is that the latter must fill her stomach from her first victim, while Aedes will fly off and feed off as many people as necessary to fill her stomach. However, if Aedes catches you sleeping, you could well be her only victim. If Aedes feeds on the blood of someone with Chikungunya, Dengue or Zika, the viruses will remain in the mosquito and can be passed on the eggs.  Within 8 - 10 days of hatching, the eggs will give rise to adults which will infect humans when they feed on them.
     Our best defense against these pests continues to be vigilance in removing the breeding sites of Aedes around our homes, schools, business places, churches and other meeting places. For other breeding sites, such as potholes in roads, we need to put relentless pressure on the authorities.