Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reading at Granville All Age School, St. James

Granville All Age School, St. James, not to be confused with a school of the same name in Trelawny, is on the left-hand side of the main road, a short distance after the gates to Sam Sharpe Teachers' College, in the community of Granville on the outskirts of Montego Bay. All Age schools in Jamaica have grades 1 to 9. In grade 6, the children take GSAT, the results of which place some of them in high schools. The others stay in the All Age schools for grades 7 - 9 when they sit another test to get into a high school.

A classroom block

The school has a clean, freshly painted look, and many beautiful murals. There was no garbage in sight, for which the Principal and staff should be congratulated, considering the general untidiness of the streets of Montego Bay. It was also quiet. This you may think is how schools should be, but compared with several city schools I have visited, that is not always the case.

My reading there on Tuesday, April 24, was part of GraceKennedy Limited and Western Union's National Reading Week, under the theme, 'Today's Readers, Tomorrow's Leaders'. Granville All Age being the school chosen for St. James.
The same classroom block from the front at lunchtime.
I read to class 6R whose room is upstairs at the far end of the block in the photo. As usual, I took my frog and my pot to dramatize the first page of Delroy in the Marog Kingdom. This was the first time I was reading to a class without their teacher being present (she had gone to a meeting), but even so, they were quiet and attentive. After the reading, I was given a heart-warming vote of thanks by the head girl, Tyasha James.

I thank the principal, Mrs. Brown, for affording me the opportunity of visiting her school and reading to some of her students.

Container Garden
Outside the computer room.
Administrative block.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflections on Jamaica’s Grade 6 Achievement Test (GSAT)

Three of the many books available for GSAT
     The Grade 6 Achievement Test (GSAT) in Jamaica replaced the controversial Common Entrance Examination in 1999. The thinking at that time was that Science and Social Studies should be tested in addition to Mathematics and Language Arts, because the heavy concentration on the latter two subjects in the CEE had led to the neglect of Science and Social Studies. A communication task was also introduced because of the deficiencies of multiple choice testing.
     Several years on, GSAT is once again hitting the headlines. We are told, in the Daily Gleaner, Monday, April 9, 2012, that the Ministry of Education plans to spend $10.3 million to review GSAT with an overseas consultant. Don’t we have the expertise in Jamaica to do that?
     This isn’t the first time concerns have been raised. In August 2008, Dr. Claude Packer, President of the Mico University College, speaking at the graduation ceremony for FIU School of Education’s MSc in Curriculum Instruction, Jamaica programme, said “Too much is taught in the GSAT. It’s too much, too soon.” He said of mathematics that more emphasis should be placed on getting students to understand numbers and concepts. According to The Sunday Observer’s Career and Education, August 10, 2008, the Ministry of Education was at that time reviewing all the programmes of National Assessment and that a broad-based committee had already begun the assessment. Did the committee make any recommendations? It seems as though, if there were any, they were not implemented.
     The real problem with both CEE and GSAT is the shortage of quality places in secondary schools. In theory, GSAT is a placement exam and but when children don’t get into the school of their choice, they and their parents regard them as having failed. However, if parents had no choice but to send children to schools, including new secondary schools, near to their homes the intake of all schools would include students with high scores in GSAT, thus raising the standards in the new schools. It is the pressure to perform to get into ‘brand-name schools’ which puts so much stress on the students and their parents.
Even so, I do think the GSAT curriculum is overloaded with content. Testing work done over three years, in grades 4, 5 and 6, adds to the stress.
     I think the three main undesirable consequences of GSAT are as follows.
     Firstly, it encourages rote learning instead of teaching students how to learn, how to think and to be curious. As Clay P. Beckford said “You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” Is it really necessary for children to know that the River Ob is in Siberia? Nowadays, many of them could find that information on the internet quicker than I could. Two other pet peeves of mine are the teaching the division of fractions and long division. Who needs to do either in these days of calculators and computers?
     Secondly, much of the curriculum is repeated in grade 7 in secondary school, resulting in boredom, especially among the students who scored highest in GSAT.
     Thirdly, it puts pressure on the teachers in the lower grades to complete the overloaded syllabus in those grades, regardless of whether the children have mastered the content or not. The teachers end up teaching the curriculum and not the children. The less able children get left further and further behind, resulting in frustration and lowering of their self-esteem. The teachers’ time would be better spent ensuring that all the children in their classes function at an acceptable level, while the brighter students can be given enrichment activities and a wide range of reading material.
     The purpose of an educational system, especially at the primary level, should be to ensure that when all the nation’s children become adults, they have a functional place in society. GSAT is clearly not doing that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Boston Piano Quartet at Mountambrin

Anthony Vine, Gayle Rich, Ivy Turner  and Stephen Schoenbaum
     At Mountambrin again on Sunday, March 25, this time to hear the Boston Piano Quartet.
     Every year for the past 40 years, Gayle Rich has brought chamber music friends to perform at Mountambrin. She herself is a violist who played with the Boston Philharmonic.
     Her friends this year were Anthony Vine, violinist, who studied at the Longy School of Music with Dr. Paul Roby and Gerald Elias of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He has performed during each of the last two summers at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. He endeavours to balance his love for chamber music with a busy schedule as a laparoscopic surgeon.
     Stephen Schoenbaum, pianist, is also a physician, with degrees from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. He studied piano with Nevarte Adrian, Eleanor Sokoloff and David Bacon.
     Ivy Turner, cellist, began her studies at age 3 in New York City. In spite of studying at prestigious institutions, she realized that there were many musicians and not enough jobs, so decided to enjoy music as an amateur instead.  She became a Real Estate broker and in her spare time runs chamber music workshops and plays in benefit concerts.

     The quartet played the following pieces at Mountambrin:
Piano Quartet in E major, opus 16 by Ludwig van Beethoven,
Andante, opus 10 by Leon Boellman and
Piano Quartet in A minor, opus 67 by Josquin Turina.

Steven Woodham and Stephen Schoenbaum
     After the intermission, Jamaica's violinist Steven Woodham played 'Vocalise' Opus 14 by Rachmaninoff and Meditation from "Thais" by Massenet. He was accompanied on the piano by Stephen Schoenbaum.

Sharon Martini, soprano, accompanied by Stephen Schoenbaum, closed the concert with two operatic pieces, which displayed the range and power of her beautiful voice.