Recently, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, the Honorable Andrew Holness, announced a most welcome policy initiative that will benefit Jamaica significantly into the 21st century and beyond. He announced plans to construct six STEM schools on the island. For those who don’t understand it, STEM is a popular contemporary learning portal through which students are educated in four specific primary disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is a cutting-edge educational pathway that has revolutionized the world, especially in “first world nations”. Upon hearing the prime minister’s proposal, my first thought was of the importance of the fundamentals for our children, the “back to basics sustenance” through the “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic that is usually sustained by processes of creative comprehension practices that are artistically instinctive. How many of us remember “nursery rhymes, poetry recitals, praying, or understanding the story in the reading book just from looking at the page by page illustrations without reading a single word? In the contemporary world, there is now a need for more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. However, for such a significant thrust to happen flawlessly, it must include the arts across the wider curriculum.
Does STEM foster creativity and ingenuity?
My reading of the STEM curricular structure reveals that there are caveats as far as the inclusion of the arts in education is concerned. If students are devoid of creative thinking, developed and sustained through the arts and sports in education, then a clear path through knowledge creation and diffusion are not established which means, that the basic building blocks that foster the development of ingenuity and creativity are not realized in the broader educational focus. The arts and sports are the medium through which students build essential learning such as critical thinking, imaginative, interpretative, problem-solving, cross-cultural, and social skills.
Integration of arts and sports in education unlock the creative potential in students that facilitate complex problem solving and new ideas; these are vital interlocking curricular components. Additionally, the arts contribute to the development of new ideas and innovations which lead to raw ingenuity and creativity to which mathematical and scientific applications may be added for purposes of functional applicability. Recent developments in artificial intelligence or digital learning are not possible without the arts. These technologies were created by people who learned that if the human mind can conceive it, the human mind can also achieve it.
The value of arts in educational technology tools
Educational technology tools (EdTech) is hinged on the ethical practice of facilitating learning and connects to software that responds to adaptive learning by improving performance through creating. It is perhaps the most powerful method used in learning today. Technology-based solutions to teaching, learning, and student’s performance analysis happen according to the acknowledgement of the unique learning curve and needs of each child real-time. The method uses animation, illustrations, graphics, drawing implications, and in some cases, three-dimensional rendering and or references to varying its substance.
Our educational methodology must change for Jamaica to succeed in the highly technological global society. Students must develop their information-based capabilities as it relates to rudiments and theory of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and the all-important connective tissues that the arts provide for thorough learning. As the STEM concept of education grows roots in the Jamaican educational structure, the most obvious questions to contemplate revolve around methodological competence of teachers and students. Do we have an adequate number of STEM trained, skilled teachers, to take on the task using the STEM curriculum? If not, how long would it take to train such teachers?
The truly comprehensive STEM teachers would undoubtedly be equivalent to a general practitioner in the field as they would be well rounded across disciplines and have integrated lesson plans and lessons. As the projected educational pathway for the future, STEM not only promises to be of serious importance to the charting of Jamaica’s educational future, it will provide our license of relevance as a nation in the technological revolution as it will permeate every part of our lives. On such a trajectory, it is fair to assert that Jamaica’s STEM-related occupations would be expected to grow annually, comparative to other traditional occupations. At the moment, STEM degree holders worldwide enjoy a higher rate of income and play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the economy. The balanced STEM teacher will train critical thinkers and innovators with a thorough understanding of scientific and artistic literacy; they will shape the minds of students, giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts towards the development of new products and processes with which to sustain our Jamaican economy.
The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learner: what visual learners do.
The visual learner assimilates information by seeing it, they think and remember with the aid of images or by mental imagining. This makes them highly conceptual thinkers with phenomenal long-term memory. This kind of “seeing” may be hinged on spatial awareness, photographic memory, colour or tone, brightness or contrast, attention to minute details, and an array of other instinctive visual information. It is reasonable to assert that visual learners will function well in a fully technological classroom, especially if the teacher understands and is competent to apply arts with technology.
How the visual learner does it:
The natural abilities of the visual learner can and should be used to boost their performance in school. Here are some characteristics of the visual learner:
- Instinctively follows directions,
- Naturally display a great sense of balance and alignment,
- Organize instinctively,
- Very colour-oriented,
- Creates mental images—solutions of things heard, read, see, taste, felt,
- Easily envision imagery,
- Pays attention to details–notices minute similarities and differences.
Applying special strategies to help the visual learner.
Educational research posits that 65% of students are visual learners. These students love to draw, use clay, playdough, look at smartboards, power-point presentations, handouts, graphs, charts, and picture presentations. They will usually want to draw or paint their understanding of the lesson and or have it drawn or painted by the teacher as a demonstration. The visual learner likes to personally document learning in creative ways, or practice it in a dramatized performance, dance or sing it. Verbal directions without visualization mean very little to them. Visual learners may lose focus in the traditional classroom setting, as they prefer to have something tangible to view, especially that which they create or participate in during the learning process.
Six basic strategies with which to reaching visual learners are:
- Supplement verbal lectures with a handout, diagram, drawing activities as visuals.
- Incorporate colour, performance, sound–music, gesticulations—dance or forms of physical movements into your presentations. The classroom MUST be dressed with all of the above.
- Varying instructional methods such as lectures, group work, solitary work, pairs, circles and assignments so that every learner is challenged from their own natural and realistic vantage points
- Demonstrate how to complete a task instead of just telling students how to complete a task.
- Use video and still images to enhance presentations.
The auditory learner is a keen listener who benefits from hearing lectures, audio recordings, podcasts, jingles and songs, brainstorming and participating in discussions. These learners talk through projects with students and teachers and respond to verbal input. They pick up on the tone and inflexion in verbal presentations, oftentimes hearing what others do not. They think best out loud and follow oral directions easily. Written information does not always aid learning so auditory learners may read out loud to aid understanding.
Applying special strategies to help the auditory learner:
- Use subtle changes in the tone of voices, which might include instruments.
- Include storytelling, lectures, oral activities.
- Include group discussions
- Encourage discussions and participation vocally in class
- Make recordings of taught concepts.
- Allow time to read aloud.
Kinesthetic learners are natural performers, actors, ballplayers, athletes, dancers, and sporting enthusiasts who instinctively use their bodies or sporting objects, such as a ball, to aid learning.
How the kinesthetic learner does it:
- They utilize good hand-eye coordination,
- Quick reflects—reflection,
- Excellent physical demonstrations and experimenters,
- Athletic, artistic, and dramatic,
- Very high levels of physical energy,
- Attached to a ball or toy,
- Learning becomes a play or skit,
- Acting and performing while learning—studying,
- Doodling during lectures,
- Playing ball while studying,
- Eating while learning—playing,
- Sees fun as the core of learning.
Physics, science and math in mastering a ball
What does it take to bounce and feel the weight of a basketball, the position of the throwing arm, the rhythm and force in and from the body that determine the quality of the throw? Not every teacher can align the physics, science and math in sprinting to the point where it may be used to teach the very subjects mentioned. Not every teacher can understand and direct lessons of technology through that would interest or grab the attention of the visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, child. However, teachers who are skilled with the knowledge of identifying and nurturing such tendencies and can design lesson plans accordingly, are the ones who will reap great success. It is paramount therefore that the new STEM initiative for Jamaica is carefully rooted on a broader understanding of learning variances while developing the expertise to include these within lessons.
The overlooked value of social equity and the scourge of class structure
The legendary “Peter Tosh” made it crystal clear that without equal rights and justice, there would be no peace. Without equal rights and justice in our educational institutions the social fabrics of the nation will remain in a state of suspended animation for the disenfranchised. A dreaded form of disparities and caveats in education that not even “STEM” can fix. Attention must be paid to inequalities caused by “class structure” that serve to furtively cripple the marginalized in our society and communities. The hierarchical divide of structures and classes is reflective of a “Marxist’ nature speaking to crazy capitalistic stage of production that consist of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat concepts.
Food for thought
Imagine a STEM school operating in Jamaica with the modules designed to take into consideration instructional characters such as Miss Kitty, Bob Marley and Ding Dong. The reality is that some students are easily turned off by difficult subjects such as science and technology (STEM) so it makes sense that the curriculum utilizes a user-friendly teaching arts methodology. Subsequently, these STEM schools will be inclusive and should attract students from all backgrounds.
So, the Prime Minister of Jamaica has agreed to commission six STEM schools that will be jointly funded by China and the Government of Jamaica. This is welcome news; Holness realizes that Jamaica MUST upskill the countries human resource to keep pace with the competitive economic demands of the fourth industrial revolution. This revolution being spurred by the demands of IT innovation and artificial intelligence on a global scale. STEM schools make economic sense. However, this education initiative should be implemented in a bespoke way; this will take into consideration Jamaica’s natural endowment such as our arts and create social capital. This, I believe, will stimulate learning and make Jamaica competitive and efficient in the international labour market.
Dr. Clovis Nelson is an educator and Human Rights activist from Frank field Clarendon in rural Jamaica. He is also a fine artist, sculptor and art educator working in Jamaica and the USA and has written extensively on the STEM educational concept. This article was edited by Ann Smith, Managing Editor of Kinstonmouth.com. Persons wishing to contact |Dr. Clovis Nelson or respond to this article may do so on firstname.lastname@example.org or via Linkedin.