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Game-Based Learning Explored in Jamaica

Jamaica's Minister of Education Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites (center) with the Ed School group.Over spring break in March, a team of 14 Ed School students traveled to Kingston, Jamaica for eight days to explore the theme Implementing Quality in Education. The team consisted of master’s students Addy Awofisayo, Chris Kajander, Colleen Silva, Jingqiu Guan, Josephine Ho, Sammy Lemoonga, Polina Mischenko, Robert Moore, Shamayne Cumberbatch, Shua Marquis Terryl Dozier, and doctoral students Dawn Miller, Julia Van Alst, and Paul Perry.

For several months prior to traveling to Jamaica, the team of International Education Policy Program (IEP) students convened weekly to research a topic of interest provided by Jamaica’s Ministry of Education — the role of sports in education. The scope of the project soon expanded its focus to “game-based learning,” defined as teaching and learning through games with defined objectives and outcomes. The group explored the ways in which game-based learning can be integrated into Jamaica’s classrooms through interdisciplinary methods. The team conducted a literature review of pockets of excellence from multiple countries whose programs and teaching strategies spoke to the needs and context of education in Jamaica.

Once the team arrived in Jamaica, they sought to highlight bright spots in Jamaica’s education system, looking for examples of teachers employing game-based learning within the classroom.  “We were interested in exploring and harnessing the successful teaching strategies that were already present in the Jamaican classrooms and could potentially serve as a resource to other schools in Jamaica,” says Silva.

Jamaican students engage in game-based learning.

In order to obtain more information about game-based learning, the HGSE team visited seven schools (both primary and secondary) in Kingston where they interviewed students, teachers, and administrators; observed class lessons; and experienced physical education activities outside of the classroom. Also, throughout a series of meetings, the team drew upon the knowledge of international agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, USAID, and Inter-American Development Bank. The team’s discussions with the Ministry’s Monitoring and Evaluation, Core Curriculum, and Guidance Counseling department helped to facilitate the HGSE team’s field-study project.

Based on the literature reviews, observations in the schools and meetings with the departments at the Ministry of Education, the team presented several key policy considerations to the Ministry: (1) utilize a website, the National Play Day, and the Jamaican Teaching Council as platforms from which educators can develop and share best game-based learning practices;  (2) promote a culture of collaboration through the Quality Education Circles (local discussion groups for educators), and by allocating time for teachers to develop and share game-based learning strategies; (3) provide resource support for schools in the form of workshops and training; and (4) create a monitoring and evaluation plan to be conducted at the school level. A careful effort was made to ensure that the considerations did not overreach the findings and scope of our project. One of the limitations of the group’s research was the brief amount of time spent in a relatively low number of schools. Additionally, the considerations were selected, in part, based upon their feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and applicability to a wide range of schools across Jamaica.

The Ed School team presents policy considerations at the Ministry of Education.

“The most memorable part of our trip was after our presentation when a representative from the Inter-American Development Bank said something along the lines of, when you are ready to move forward with these recommendations, call us to talk about funding,” says Ho. “It’s exciting because our work may have some real impact!”

This distinct field-study project enabled the team of IEP students to gain valuable, firsthand insight into how a national education system functions and how it is managed from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives. The experience in Jamaica provided the team with the opportunity to collaborate with key stakeholders from the school, community and national level. Additionally, the HSGE students obtained a practical experience in applying their academic and professional skills in order to support meaningful improvement in Jamaica’s education system.

“Our trip was successful because of the unwavering support by the HGSE alums in Jamaica. They were committed to making our trip happen,” says Awofisayo. “What made the trip even more successful was that everyone contributed their talents towards a fulfilling field experience; we had someone capture the moments through photography, we had another person great at sharing stories and another with great at negotiation skills. It was a great team effort.”

Photos courtesy of Colleen Silva.