Dr Joan James — touching lives with her work in education

Dr Joan James — touching lives with her work in education

Staff reporter

Sunday, October 08, 2017

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Dr Joan James has a passion for education.

The science educator and educational consultant for curriculum development, implementation and evaluation has remained steadfast in her role since she emigrated to Jamaica 34 years ago to occupy a teaching position.

The Guyanese-born native, now a seasoned educator, instructs aspirants to the profession in her role as a part-time lecturer and practicum Supervisor in science education at The University of the West Indies (UWI).

But that to her is not enough, as she has opted to move from a full-time lecturer at the UWI to part-time to forward her voluntary work — of course in education.

With an aim to improve the education sector, James has developed a programme through which she goes into schools to assist teachers with the curriculum and their difficulties and encourages them to embrace new approaches to education. It also addresses professional development.

“I believe that the current one-size-fits-all workshops that are now used by the Ministry of Education are ineffective. Research evidence has shown that the quality of teacher education has failed,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

This she said is because it neither allows the teacher to translate effectively the principles and theories of teaching into classroom nor achieve the curriculum’s intent by raising student performance.

“Effective science curriculum implementation cannot be achieved until teachers form themselves into professional learning communities and learn to teach on the job, because that’s where teachers learn to teach, within the context of their own classrooms, where the issues arise [and] where the curriculum goes into use,” James passionately explained.

“They [teachers] have difficulties in moving from the transmission approach to a more enquiry approach that allows for asking questions, finding answers to questions, exploring answers, collecting data, analysing data, and arriving at conclusions that are logical and applying those to real-life situations for solving problems. That’s very complex, but it is among what science education should look like today,” she told the Sunday Observer.

A woman on a mission, James said it is her God-given mandate to address these issues and advocate for the professional forum that encourages development and provides support to teachers at all levels.

In her view, teachers are lifelong learners who need to keep up with the constant changes in the education sector so they can engender students that are needed in society.

What is the bottom line of her programme? “I want to help teachers to learn to teach as they teach in an authentic way.

“Research evidence have shown that in many high-performance countries in the world, the way teacher education is going now is towards the formation of professional learning communities that would allow the teachers opportunity to support each other to plan and grow and develop in the context of their own classroom setting.

“A teacher graduating [from teachers’ college] in June and being placed into a classroom setting in September…is expected to operate as a veteran with years of experience in teaching, [but] they can’t do that because, in fact, they are neophyte teachers now learning to translate the theoretical knowledge and the principles of teaching into classroom practices. They cannot operate as teachers with years of experience and so they need the support of more capable teachers,” she explained.

With the support of her husband Anand James, Director/consultant at Caribbean Flavours and Fragrances Limited, and Archbishop Emeritus Donald Reese, James has offered her services at the St Richard’s Primary School and St Patrick’s Primary School in Kingston and St Andrew.

“I intend to go back to these schools and help them in the formation of professional learning communities and to acquire this culture of assisting each other and helping them to grow professionally on a continuous basis,” she said.

“I hope to [go back]…to the schools to observe how teachers are teaching and to identify from what I observe where their difficulties are, translate those difficulties into learning needs and will help them put strategies in place that will help them in their own active participation, in their own learning, to address those needs and to grow professionally.”

She expressed hope to move the project into other schools soon.

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