Jamaican teachers lack enough content knowledge that would allow them to unpack and repack information in a form for their students to assimilate, says Mico University College’s first president, Dr. Claude Packer.
“That cannot continue,” he said in his keynote address at the Mico Alumni Association Ontario chapter’s 10th annual banquet last Saturday night in Scarborough.
Founded in 1836, Mico is the oldest teacher training institution in the western hemisphere and the second oldest teacher’s college in the English-speaking world.
Packer, the university’s principal before being appointed president, said Mico is on a journey to train teachers to think critically and innovatively.
“Mico is making sure that the Jamaican education system is fashioned for many more of our people to achieve their full potential for national development in order to elevate the masses out of poverty,” he said. “It’s not fair to them. Some of the boys are angry with us because we have forgotten them. We must create a different system to allow them to be part of it so that they can enjoy a better life.”
Packer noted that Mico has adopted a student-centred approach to enhance the quality of service delivery with a focus on technology.
“Teaching will have to embrace future minds,” he said. “As teachers, we are teaching children in a space and time that we may never see. The children, or digital natives as I like to refer to them, are consigned to analog schools in the Caribbean. Many are simply bored. Chalk and talk are no longer able to keep their attention and focus. They come with smartphones and laptops to the classroom and we have to cater to that experience. Gone are the days when we gave children notes. The kids are smarter and they need their own information.”
A 2003 recipient of the Governor General Achievement Award for outstanding contribution in education, Packer did not attend high school. While in primary school, he delivered buns for his father who owned a bakery and meals for his stepmom to Seaforth market vendors.
A headmaster provided Packer with free lessons that enabled him to pass the Jamaica Local Exams. It was under this principal – Ben Gutzmore – that Packer acquired a passion for Math. After graduating from Mico Teachers College in 1966, Packer taught Math at several institutions and secured a Teacher’s scholarship to pursue a degree program at the University of the West Indies. He later earned fellowships to pursue a Master’s at Central Connecticut State University and his doctorate at Cornell University.
Packer conceived the idea for Mico to become a university college, created a model to attract more males to the institution and initiated collaboration with York University School of Education for Mico staff to pursue research for Master’s and doctoral theses in 2003-4.
Mico recently established the Institute of Technological & Educational Research.
“Research has to become a part of the culture of every teacher who is serious about growth and development,” Packer, who holds a post-graduate diploma in Systems Thinking from Harvard University, said. “Our country must begin to produce good researchers who can adequately use qualitative and quantitative data to analyze our economic situation and make predictions on pressing issues in different fields that are relevant to national development. We must seriously deal with increasing levels of poverty. Countries like Jamaica need to produce indigenous capacity to contribute to wealth creation.”
As part of this year’s banquet, the Mico Ontario chapter presented a scholarship to Queen’s-Trent Concurrent Education first-year student Shanice Diab-Cox who is a Central Peel Secondary School honours graduate and valedictorian.
“From the time I was in kindergarten, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” said Diab-Cox whose great grandfather was a principal and grandmother was a teacher. “I just love the classroom environment and helping others to succeed.”
The chapter also awarded $5,000 in scholarships to Mico students.
Mico is the sole survivor of over 300 ‘normal” schools established in Jamaica during the post-emancipation period.