Tuesday, April 23, 2024

EDITORIAL: Help teachers improve STEM skills


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SIR HILARY BECKLES, vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has made a rather bold statement about the way some of our teachers ought to be treated. He wants special pay for those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] subjects over and above their colleagues.

Barbados has a glaring weakness in this area and it is an issue which must be addressed, not by talking alone, but by looking at all the solutions, including Sir Hilary’s proposal. He did not expressly say it but his recommendation seems to target secondary schoolteachers. The problems with mathematics start at a much earlier age.

The teaching of STEM subjects, particularly mathematics, is not an easy task. The techniques must be both correct and engaging as educators must inculcate a love for and highlight the importance of the subject. This must begin at nursery school and continue throughout the school system. The results of the mathematics papers in both Common Entrance Examination and Caribbean Examinations Council’s tests are never stellar.

However, paying teachers in the STEM subjects more seems likely to open up more problems than providing a realistic solution. It will raise some serious industrial relations concerns.

Trade unionists will argue that special treatment would also have to be extended to the nurses in the Accident & Emergency Department or those in Intensive Care Units; to those detectives who work diligently in solving major serious crimes quickly; and members of the coast guard and drug enforcement officers who must operate in some of the most treacherous conditions.

It is evident Barbados needs to attract the very best talent into the teaching profession. It should be a highly competitive and selective process to get into the teachers’ college, while teacher professional development should be consistently pursued to ensure those in the classrooms remain relevant.

These men and women, the teachers in our nursery, primary, secondary and special needs schools, all do the job because of a labour of love, a commitment to their fellow countrymen and the desire to know that Barbados would be the better because of their efforts.

Those who have sat at the feet of these teachers and are now high flyers in various areas of endeavour need to give back. This could be by way of financial donations, gifts of technology and most importantly of their time and expertise especially in the STEM areas.

This would allow those who have gained much from the system to fully appreciate the challenges our teachers endure daily. Students would also be able to interact with key people in commerce, industry, research and government. What a difference this would make.

The challenge that remains is how to help teachers in all disciplines improve their pedagogical skills. This is a role in which the UWI must take the lead.


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