Jamaica: Union research highlights crucial role of state and ICT in quality education during COVID-19 and beyond

published 31 August 2020 updated 4 March 2022

The important role of the state and access to information and communication technology in education were key results of research by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA).

The JTA’s research was on the theme ‘Triangulating Education’, i.e. the process by which a teacher collects evidence about student learning.

“While the theme, Triangulating Education, on the surface, might not appear to be the most elegant theme, its implication for education is profound and far reaching,” said JTA Secretary General Byron Farquharson. “Education, if it is going to be meaningful and beneficial, must seek to serve the total person with the fundamental purpose of making him fit to live and live with.”

‘Triangulating Education’ must seek to cater to all persons within society, irrespective of their circumstances, to draw on all the resources within the environment, and to produce citizens who can contribute to human development, he said.

Role of the state

That is why ‘Triangulating Education’ requires the state – along with other players – to play a pivotal role in education. Farquharson highlighted that education is non-discriminatory and inclusive. Everyone has a right to it but, equally, everyone has a responsibility to ensure that no one is left out or deprived of the possibilities that education provides, he said.

Farquharson stressed that “‘Triangulating Education’ must provide quality, access, and equity for all citizens”.

Importance of research

The JTA places an emphasis on research. Studies have shown the importance of research to the education process and to ensure quality education for all, especially faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The JTA prides itself in conducting research through its committees,” said JTA president Owen R. Speid, in a union magazine dedicated to research on ‘Triangulating Education’. The union’s “Education and Research Committee has strategically extended itself beyond boundaries in conducting surveys and interviews, with the overarching intention of achieving conclusions with respect to issues trending in education locally and abroad.”

He added that the JTA, as a professional body, constantly highlights that “education is not merely the qualification certificates achieved, but everything that we learn and apply to our ways of life. In a society which constitutes people of diverse views on educational matters, it is imperative to impress on our people that all stakeholders are significant contributors to the development of a sound educational structure”.

Access to ICT

That educational structure must include technological development and the availability of access to information and communication technology (ICT), said Nadine Molloy, a JTA leader and member of Education International’s Executive Board. She added that advances in industry were often ahead of those on many school campuses.

“What is clear to many educators at this time is that this lagging behind cannot continue as we witness the floundering of economic models and their promise,” she said. “Within a relatively short period of time, a tiny virus has travelled the globe and literally brought life as we know it to a standstill. The industries that had embraced technology or were able to use technology are the ones that have survived best … the current pandemic has only hastened the inevitable and forced schools that could do so to jump into using modes of ICT. Schools in the traditional mode have literally been shut down.”

“The jury is still out on the level of appreciation of the times that educators now face and what it will take to fully integrate technology into our teaching, learning, and assessment processes in a meaningful way,” she stated.

Able to use technology

Molloy also insisted that educational institutions should produce graduates who can use the basic technology found in any industry regardless of its service to the user. This is not the case today, she deplored. But such industries can perhaps be best framed by the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or, for instance, by Jamaica’s own Vision 2030 National Development Plan.

Educators and schools, therefore, should be in the forefront of redesigning the face and application of ICT in education, she advised. This redesign should result in spaces that are aligned to what the world of work and play needs to look like in 10 to 15 years’ time.

ICT another tool in education

At the same time, the introduction or refashioning of ICT cannot be seen as a panacea for all the core and opportunity gaps in education delivery, she stressed. Rather, ICT must be seen as another tool in education that is more aligned to the mode of access to information, communication, and innovation of the day. This realignment is essentially about the quality of life envisioned by educators and their unions.

“We have to become new beings as teachers and educators who think about student-centred engagement at all times,” she insisted. “We have to be creative and innovative with the use of ICT and other tools to maintain our relevance in next few years.”

EI: ICT supervised to protect the learning process

Molloy also mentioned Education International’s Statement on ICT in schools, which indicates that “ICT has the capacity to enhance the learning process and facilitate communications within education institutions and between educators and learners but it must be used in education institutions under the supervision of qualified well-trained professionals with the expertise in pedagogy and in education to ensure that its impact does not damage or undermine the learning process or the development of learners.” This excerpt, she noted, captures the essence of the critical role of teachers’ conversation and observations.

“Relevant, meaningful, and lifelong student learning in all its facets must be our mission, driven by a vision of us taking the lead wherever we are in ensuring that change, however incremental, takes place,” she concluded. “The message must be clear that we are making provision for the advent of the Fifth Industrial Revolution inside our classrooms. We know our history, we value our beloved traditions, we keep our rights front and centre, but we must change with the times in a responsible manner.”

Information points

The JTA magazine on ‘Triangulating Education’ also includes a reference to Education International’s Resolution on the future of the teaching profession, as well as a comparison of Jamaica’s education system with Scandinavian countries and Singapore.