Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, Ronald Jones (centre), in discussion with (from left) Officer-In-Charge of UNICEF, Violet Speek-Warnery; Principal of the UWI, Cave Hill Campus, Sir Hilary Beckles; Conference Coordinator, Sandra Prescod-Dalrymple??of ESP??Consultants??and Facilitator, Leonard Bernstein. (Image:??K.??Dalrymple)

With contemporary classrooms becoming increasingly diverse, educational authorities, teachers and principals should be looking to instructional and learning strategies that cater to a variety of learning profiles.

Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, Ronald Jones underlined this today as he addressed the start of a five-day regional conference entitled Connecting Mind, Brain and Education, at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.

Mr. Jones told representatives from regional and international institutions that current educational trends across the world reflected significant changes in the composition of the student population in the modern day classroom. He said: "The classroom of the 21st century is diverse in look, language and abilities. The move to total inclusion has compelled educators to review their teaching and instructional practices. The homogeneity of yesteryear has been replaced by widespread diversity.??

"In the Caribbean, the free movement of labour has resulted in changes in the cultural and intellectual landscape of our classrooms, and Barbados is no exception.?? We, therefore, welcome opportunities for our educators to grasp new ideas to assist them in the classroom.?? The question, then, is how do we use the brain to further fashion our thoughts to improve the education product?"

The Minister pointed out that in response to this development in the diversity of students and student needs, there had been a paradigm shift in educational circles worldwide towards the whole notion of differential instruction. This model, he stressed, proposed a rethinking of the structure, management and content of the classroom and invited participants within the learning context to become actively engaged in the process, so that all students could have maximum benefit.

In proffering a definition of differential instruction, Mr. Jones said it meant "creating multiple paths so that students of diverse abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning".

The Education Minister acknowledged that the shift towards differentiation was supported by studies and investigations in the education field which showed that factors including student diversity, learning styles, brain research and the multiple intelligences were the propelling forces.

While he noted that research had also proven that individuals did not learn in the same way, he lamented that this was not fully comprehended. He maintained: "In the area of instruction, while pedagogues understand that not all learners are the same, and that their needs are diverse, few teachers accommodate these differences in their classroom. Uniformity, rather than attending to diversity, dominates the culture of many contemporary classrooms."

The Minister noted that current practices used in the system, especially in the areas of curriculum and assessment, were being revisited. "In Barbados we have made some changes in our mode of assessment, and more changes are yet to come especially in the area of continuous assessment, utilising the multiple areas of intelligence." ??And, he highlighted Government’s recent decision to have students take the Barbados model of the Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence as an example of his Ministry’s commitment to reviewing the education product, with the aim of making it more student-friendly.

Meanwhile, Officer-In-Charge of UNICEF, Violet Speek-Warnery, in supporting the Minister’s views, said: "We must also continue to make that shift from a system where students of the past were trained for a career, where from third year at secondary schools they had to choose a stream and were largely educated for a particular area of work and shift to a scenario where we are tooling them for life.’

Mrs. Speek-Warnery added: "We are educating children for jobs that do not exist yet; to use technologies that have not been invented; and to solve problems we do not yet know about. The illiterate of the future are not those who cannot read or write; they are those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn."


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