Thursday, April 19, 2012

Digicel Foundation literacy initiative reaping rewards

by Luke Douglas

Jamaica Observer | Friday, March 02, 2012

AN education initiative, aimed at helping to achieve 100 per cent literacy in primary schools by 2015, is reaping impressive rewards with some students improving by two grades in one year, according to Executive Director of the Digicel Foundation Samantha Chantrelle.

While unable to give an overall assessment of the programme until later this year, Chantrelle said feedback from teachers about the Digicel Foundation's Enrichment Centre Initiative (ECI) has been very encouraging.

Angella Francis (left), teacher at Bridgeport Primary School, and Jeremiah Golding (right), principal of Chapelton All-Age, exchange pleasantries with Major General Robert Neish (second left), executive vice-chairman of the Digicel Foundation, and Executive Director Samantha Chantrelle at a principals' and teachers' forum at the Knutsford Court Hotel in St Andrew on Wednesday. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)


"Some of the children have advanced by two grade levels within a year. They come in unable to read, sometimes unable to recognise letters, and the teachers are telling me that within months they are seeing a huge difference," Chantrelle said Wednesday.

Under the ECI, schools with levels of mastery of below 60 per cent in the Grade Four Literacy Test are targeted. Some 26 schools have been provided with enrichment centres and 31 with mobile enrichment carts so far at a cost of more than $100 million from the Digicel Foundation.

The enrichment centres are equipped with desktop and laptop computers, literacy and numeracy software such as Hooked on Phonics, Phonics Pad and Early Success, and Math Manipulative Audio-Visual headsets, TV and DVD players, among other equipment.

Each cart is outfitted with Digicel 4G Broadband netbooks, 4G Broadband service, a multimedia projector, a multi-functional copier/scanner and printer along with the teaching software. The carts can be pushed to various classrooms, enabling the facilities to be used by more students and teachers.

The objective of the initiative is to contribute to the Ministry of Education's goal of achieving 100 per cent literacy in primary schools by 2015, which is a United Nations Millennium Development Goal.

Dave Allen, acting principal of St Michael's Primary, told the Observer that the enrichment cart has made a significant difference at the school which is located in a depressed area of Kingston.

"When we began two years ago almost all of the children were non-readers but since then we have used aspects of it in literacy and we find that it is beneficial," Allen said. "It really motivates the students to learn in ways that they would not normally do."

He said St Michael's has raised its performance in the GFLT from 31 per cent mastery in 2009 to 58 per cent last year. School attendance is also up to 90 per cent.

Meanwhile five schools with enrichment centres are to be short-listed this month (March) to vie for prizes in the inaugural Enrichment Centre School of the Year competition.

The two top prizes of $250,000 each will go to the Best Enrichment Centre Initiative (ECI) School and the Most Improved (ECI) School in the competition which is open to the 26 schools with enrichment centres.

There are also awards for the top teachers, top students and top parents in ECI schools in the competition which will conclude in May.

The Digicel Foundation hosted principals and teachers at a forum at the Knutsford Court Hotel Wednesday for training and sharing best practices to improve the initiative.

The Foundation hopes to get 100 primary level schools in the initiative within a few years.

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