No Place For Society Without Computational Skills

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Personnel from the Media Resource Department, UWI and sponsors along with Mathematics teachers from across the island???s secondary schools flank Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Dr. Janak Sodha (seated, third from left) as he discussed the rudiments of the new website http://uwitube.com with Minister of Education and Human Resource Development Ronald Jones (seated, second from left), and?? Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor, Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. (C. Pitt/BGIS)

A society that is having difficulty with computational skills among the younger cohort is a society in "big trouble".

This was stressed yesterday by Principal and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, as the new website http://uwitube.com/ was launched at UWI, with its first emphasis on Mathematics.

Sir Hilary said: "Looking at the way in which modernity is evolving most of the new areas for industrial and commercial development [and] most of the frontiers for economic activity are driven precisely by disciplines of research and industry, built upon the computational sciences. And, this is why we have every reason to be very concerned in the Caribbean by the unsatisfactory performance of our younger people in the computational sciences."

While pointing out that uwitube was designed in part to assist in the restoration of normalcy in the area of Mathematics, he noted: "It is not normal for those results coming out of CXC in the computational sciences. We cannot accept them.

"And, therefore, the university sees its role as participating in finding solutions to this, but the only way the university is going to be able to provide that leadership is exactly in the way that Dr. [Janak] Sodha [the brainchild behind the new website] has done it – which is to interact with colleagues in Government; get support from the private sector for funding the research and setting up an agenda that involves the teachers and the schools, especially."

The web resource is a collaborative effort aided by UWI, The Media Resource Department (MRD) of the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, CIBC First Caribbean International Bank and Berger Paints.

Expressing his concern about high numbers of secondary school teachers in the Sciences who were not graduates in those disciplines and whose movement out of the school system corresponded directly with falling results, Sir Hilary said it suggested the need to address the issue at multiple levels. He added: "I am quite sure that teachers who are graduates of the University in the science disciplines would probably more readily accept and embrace this [web resource]… and then transmit this information."

As he urged a holistic approach to the crisis, he said: "… This is not a normal decline in performance; this is a crisis and the University, especially, has multiple roles to play. We have been concerned for many years at UWI that our Science and Technology Faculty was challenged, in fact, to sustain itself with inputs from the school system because the number of students graduating with the appropriate matriculation standards to enter the University had fallen, and therefore, we in the University were feeling the effects of poor performances in the school system.

"It was having its impact upon the University itself.?? Now clearly, it is a cycle because we would love to produce graduates who would go into the school; produce proficient students who would come back to us. So, it is a cycle between the school, the campus and the Government…So, we have to intervene in that and lift the whole thing… so a holistic approach is needed."

Describing the new online resource as "the precise critical intervention" at this point, he said it would bring the performance of the teacher more effectively to the students in the classroom and gain the attention of "young people who are image driven and technology driven at this time".

Meanwhile, Head of the MRD and Chief Audio Visual Aids Officer, Walter Harper, in agreeing with the Pro-Vice Chancellor, stressed that the private sector stood to benefit from the initiative, as better students were produced. He said: "The University will benefit and where you (UWI) have to spend monies here at Cave Hill on… First Year Maths and Statistics in [The Faculty of] Social Sciences, there will be a cost savings in the long term hopefully to this university. There will be benefits to the private sector in that there will be more students leaving school with Maths and at a better level."

Alluding to statements made about better performances in English than Mathematics, Mr. Harper noted: "If you look at it, there is a concentration on Maths and English up to the Eleven Plus [Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination] and then something happens. Why is it that students who get 70 per cent and above in Maths at the Common Entrance [level] are failing Maths at CSEC? And, when they enter school then they discover [that] they hate Maths?"

Referring to this as "amazing", he, too, deemed the new website as "a timely intervention" and "one in which all sectors of our society will win".?? The Head of MRD also assured the University that other subjects would soon be added and noted that he was all for the idea of sharing the work of Barbadian teachers across the Caribbean, via the internet.

joy-ann.gill@barbados.gov.bb

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