about surviving in the Information Age

I wrote to the Gleaner and they published it as an article:

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130319/cleisure/cleisure3.html

Spark Youth Interest

Published: Tuesday | March 19, 20130 Comments

Kelly McIntosh, Contributor
The evidence of poor problem-solving skills and the lack of ability to think critically is all too evident in the state of Jamaica today. Sure enough, corruption is at the root of many of the issues that beset our nation, but we cannot downplay our collective ability (or lack thereof) to make sound decisions and to tackle complex issues.
We need to start now, as early as possible in the education system, to teach our young how to analyse problems, how to approach solutions, and how to think critically.
When I was younger, the challenge was ferreting out information to do projects and complete assignments for school. Many of us can remember having to go to an actual library and being guided by the index cards housed in the wooden catalogue drawers.
Fast-forward to 2013: the challenge now is to decide what information to discard! Students simply Google the question or the topic. I have had to teach my own children basic research skills like cross-referencing and fact- and source-checking as they wade through the plethora of available information.
I do not think it is possible to critically analyse any issue without a sound grasp of language. Again, we are at the mercy of this new information age. Children write in shorthand, use creative acronyms, and learn to express themselves in 140 characters or less (think Twitter!). And while creativity is good, and the ability to summarise useful, this must be balanced by other opportunities where ideas can be fleshed out and opinions challenged and defended.
Here are my proposals for equipping our young for success in the information age:
1 Encourage reading from early. This is best done by giving children access to information about what interests them. Your son who is interested in animals, for example, will not read that book that you thrust into his hands with the best intentions in the world about toys coming to life after dark.
2 From as early as kindergarten and basic school, emphasise compre-hension. Have the children do more than merely answer questions based on facts contained in the passage. They must be encouraged to criticise and imagine. This can be done individually, by writing, and collectively, in the form of class discussions.
3 Treat maths as a language describing a situation, yet providing the way to a solution through the application of basic steps one after another. Emphasise the understanding of the fundamentals over mechanical replication. The children need to be taught to determine what the particular maths problem is asking them to do and what information is provided. Once they understand the fundamental operations, application in search of a solution becomes intuitive, rooted in common sense, and not necessarily the purview of the ‘math genius’ in the class.
4 Relate everything taught to everyday life, so applicability is always at the forefront.
5 Simply have conversations with your children. When driving, turn off the radio and, most definitely, put down the cell phone. Ask them about their day. Talk about something you read in the papers or saw on the news. Ask them their opinions. Have them defend their point of view.
Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kkmac218@gmail.com.

about GSAT

GSAT is an exam that all students in Grade 6 in Jamaica have to do in order to be placed in one of the hundreds of government run secondary schools on the island.  Standards of performance vary widely from secondary school to secondary school, with the better performing ones being in the minority.  There is therefore stiff competition, with literally thousands of children vying for only scores of places in these more desirable institutions.   Here’s a letter that I wrote to the editor of our leading daily, the Gleaner, that was published on Wed Feb 29.  It got Letter of the Day.

LETTER OF THE DAY – GSAT Symptom Of System

Published: Wednesday | February 29, 20128 Comments

THE EDITOR, Sir:
So GSAT is to be reviewed. That is good news, though I am not sure what is going to really be achieved in the final analysis.
In my opinion, there are two issues at play here: GSAT as a tool to assess a grade six student’s knowledge and competence per his/her grade level; and GSAT as a tool to place students in a secondary-schoolsystem which appears to have different levels of success, evidenced by CSEC examination results.
I am a mother of two, and my experience with the GSAT curriculum aggravates me on two levels. First, it seems that GSAT emphasises trivia at the expense of the thorough understanding of mathematics and language arts. There really is nothing wrong with general knowledge, but when children are forced to cram information such as the second-largest lake in South America or the name of the third ship that Columbus sailed on, it leaves little time to ensure that the foundations of learning are properly crafted.
Second, with the volume of information these 11- and 12-year-olds have to memorise, little time is left to explore other areas of learning that are critical to building well-rounded, self-assured individuals. The end result is that the fun is sucked out of learning and the natural curiosities that lead to inventions, innovations and learning are snuffed out.
Thousands disadvantaged
The other issue is with GSAT as a placement mechanism. With just a few schools being deemed ‘good’ based on exam results at the secondary level, and thousands of children and their parents seeking entry to these ‘good’ schools, GSAT effectively acts as the selection tool.
Therefore, thousands of children who achieve average results (75-85 per cent) are made to feel like underperformers and placed in the ‘not-so-good’ schools.
The issue here is not that there is GSAT at all. The issue is Jamaica’s educational system, where performance at the secondary level varies significantly from school to school, the better-performing institutions being far fewer in number than the underperforming ones.
The bottom line: No matter how you tweak GSAT, until performance increases across the board in our secondary schools, you will always have to screen and select in order to place children in the few ‘good’ schools. This is our reality, and our children suffer.
KELLY MCINTOSH

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