AutoSkills

Country Profile: Jamaica

Population

2.769 million (2012)

Official languages

English, English patois

Poverty (population living on less than US $ 1.25 per day)

0.2 % (2007-2011)

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP

6.1 (2012)

Access to primary pducation – total net intake rate (NIR)

82.4% (2008–2012)

Youth literacy rate (15–24 years)

Total: 91.6% (UIS estimation, 1999)
Male: 87.3%
Female: 96.3%

Adult literacy rate (15 years and over)

Total: 80% (1995–2004)
Male: 74%
Female: 86%

Statistical sources
  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics
  • UNICEF Information by Country, Jamaica
  • World Bank

Programme Overview

Programme TitleAutoSkills
Implementing OrganizationJamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (Ministry of Education)
Language of InstructionEnglish
FundingGovernment funding

Country Context and Background

Lifelong learning has grown in significance in Jamaica, with national strategies and programmes developed to advance an agenda increasingly seen as crucial. Adult and non-formal education in Jamaica has traditionally been provided by non-governmental agencies run by churches and voluntary groups. Since the 1970s, however, the government has become increasingly involved, through the establishment of the Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy and its successor organization, the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning, an agency of the Ministry of Education and Youth. The Foundation for Lifelong Learning is now the main organization responsible for the delivery of non-formal adult education in Jamaica. The government has also established the National Education Trust the aim of which is to fund programmes of adult education.

At the same time, the government has implemented policies which have resulted in universal primary education – although irregular attendance and drop-outs remain a challenge – as well as improved access to secondary and tertiary education. Both government and private sectors have realized that investment in education and training is essential in order to keep up with the latest developments in technology and remain competitive.

Despite this, educational outcomes do not always live up to expectations. Between 30% and 40% of grade 6 school leavers are functionally illiterate, while only 30% of those who sit the Caribbean Examination Council mathematics exams at grade 11 pass. Poor education outcomes may be one of the factors limiting productivity gains in Jamaica (World Bank, 2003). For example, despite the importance of tourism to the Jamaican economy, poor maths, English and foreign language skills among some categories of workers have a negative effect on the quality of service (CTRC, 2003).

The problem is compounded by the fact that most Jamaicans, particularly those from lower-income families, speak patois (Creole) at home. The formal and non-formal school system provides instruction and evaluation only in standard English, which many Jamaicans struggle to master. Although the government has recognized the issue and sought to address it through teacher training, these efforts remain inadequate to the scale of the problem.

The AutoSkills programme was devised and set up in response to this background of unsatisfactory performance and poor learning outcomes in mathematics and English. Its aim is to address directly the issues that hinder productivity, growth, and lifelong learning in general in Jamaica.

Programme Overview

AutoSkills is a computer-based programme which aims to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of participants, taking them from the most basic level to grade 13. It is designed to engage those learners who are hardest to reach or who face the most persistent challenges in accessing education. The programme is run by the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), which provides a live facilitator to offer any assistance that the learner might need in using the AutoSkills computer software. It is aimed at learners in all JFLL programmes, enabling them to use the interactive computer programme to practise the skills they learn in the classroom. By using the programme alongside their classroom studies, students can advance faster. The AutoSkills programme was developed by educators for learners of all ages and abilities. It has two main strands, reading and maths, presented in a way that is intended to improve learners’ intellectual skills. It is aimed, in particular, at students who struggle with literacy and numeracy, giving them the means to make lasting improvements that can be transferred immediately into real-life contexts. The programme’s software licence was purchased in 2007 with the intention of complementing the traditional chalk-and-talk method of lesson delivery. Training of facilitators and tutors on the programme began in 2008, since when around 70 people (external clients as well as JFLL teachers) have been trained. JFLL uses the software to support the face-to-face delivery of its foundation literacy and numeracy programme.

The learners are helped to develop greater fluency by the programme’s focus on improving their accuracy, consistency and processing speed – what it terms ‘automaticity’. Automaticity involves learning to process complex information quickly and with little effort. Once a learner has developed automaticity in reading and maths, he or she can begin to focus on higher-level learning, such as comprehension and strategic competences. The individualized training streams, self-adjusting intervention component, and the focus on motivation and building self-esteem and confidence, help learners to re-engage in learning, and to do the groundwork necessary to achieve their academic goals.

AutoSkills makes it easier for the learner to interact with a computer by giving learners instruction via a set of headphones. The programme, which is available only at centres that have computer labs, is available all day, from Monday to Friday during term time. Learners can choose when and for how long they use AutoSkills, but they are given a recommended duration which reflects the demands of their course. They can use AutoSkills for as long as they need to master their course.

Aims and Objectives

The objectives of the programme are:

Programme Implementation

Content, Methodologies and Evaluation

AutoSkills is an ICT-based programme which offers courses in reading and mathematics from grade 1 to 13. The programme is delivered in 45-minute sessions, with classes delivered electronically via computers located at the JFLL East Street Adult Education Center. The programme runs across the academic year on a termly (three-month) basis. The duration of the course depends on where on the continuum (grade 1-13) the learner is placed at the outset of the course and the desired point of exit. The learner can decide when and where they want to learn and when they want to end. When the learner accesses the programme for the first time, they complete a diagnostic assessment of their skills level. As they progress through the progamme, the system adjusts according to their level of performance.

The content of the curriculum is predetermined by the software package and all work is completed electronically, online, by learners. The course materials, which were developed by AutoSkills, are only available electronically. There are no printed materials.

JFLL uses the programme to support face-to-face delivery. The software assesses the learners’ progress at the end of each level and automatically provides feedback to the learners as they progress though the programme. A tutor also monitors progress and provides individual support as needed. The teachers delivering the face-to-face programmes can access the reports generated by AutoSkills to inform their teaching. Learners take a locally developed paper-based examination at the end of their training programme.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Learners accessing the programme are already enrolled on JFLL programmes and use AutoSkills to support and reinforce the face-to-face delivery of their courses. There is one facilitator for every 15 learners taking part in AutoSkills. Facilitators are JFLL employees, working on either a part-time or full-time basis and paid with government funds. Although they are trained in the use of the software, they must have a diploma-level qualification in information technology. Training in adult literacy is an asset.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Seventy learners have participated in the programme since it began. Their feedback suggests that the programme has supported them to progress at a faster rate than would otherwise have been possible. They appreciate the non-intrusive nature of the programme, and how it allows them to work at their own pace. Some were relieved that they could work independently without being ridiculed by their peers and without causing disruption to their classmates.

Teachers responsible for the face-to-face component of the JFLL programmes report that learners who participate in AutoSkills feel more empowered and participate more during lessons as a result. The self-directed nature of the training means that learners are also more engaged, maintaining an active interest in the programme. AutoSkills complements the existing curriculum, often reinforcing what has been taught in the classroom and giving learners an opportunity to hone their new skills. One of the challenges the programme faces concerns language and the difficulty some learners have with the accent and tone of the electronic tutor. This can be attributed to the difference between the standard English used for instruction and the non-standard patios spoken by many Jamaicans in everyday life. This can have a negative impacts on participants’ response to instructions and their speed in carrying them out.

Lessons Learned

The programme highlighted the need for teachers’ knowledge and use of ICTs to be fostered through continuing teacher training programmes. This will, naturally, increase the number of facilitators for the programme. It would be useful too if administrators and teachers were able to make adjustments to the individualized training programmes. This would allow, for example, the teaching of ‘fractions’ to be carried over from the classroom into the AutoSkill training. It is important that the online delivery doesn’t replicate face-to-face delivery but, rather, complements it so that it is synchronized with classroom content and the pace at which it is taught. This would have a particularly positive impact on learners who are struggling with the material.

Sustainability

AutoSkills is already a critical component of JFLL’s programme delivery. A facilitator who has been trainined in the use of the software is assigned to the institution where AutoSkills is being delivered. Learners participate as a timetabled part of their normal course of study.
JFLL should now increase the number of sites that offer AutoSkills. This will increase the numbers of learners who are able to access the programme at different times and locations. A formal monitoring and evaluation process, tracking learners on completion of all JFLL programmes, is planned.

Sources

Contact

Dr. Grace-Camille Munroe
Acting Executive Director
47b South Camp Road, Kingston 4
Jamaica
+876 928 5181
Email: gmunroe (at) jfll.gov.jm
Website: http://www.jfll.gov.jm