1.1. Overview of Jamaica and Its Education System
Jamaica is nested in the Greater Antilles, is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea and boasts a very rich and varied landscape [
1]. The island is globally recognized through its reggae music and its participation in international sporting events [
2,
3]. The population of Jamaica emerged from a historical process that brought people from different continents together. Jamaica’s culture is heavily influenced by its African heritage, while formal behaviour is unmistakably British in style [
1].
Jamaica’s education system is best explained and understood in the context of the island’s colonial history [
4]. Prior to the slaves being emancipated in 1834, Jamaica had a minimal formal and cohesive education system for whites and no system for educating its indigenous people and slaves [
4,
5]. Only a few slave children were privy to schooling which focused on religion and virtues of submission at plantation schools established by foreign missionaries. Once slavery was abolished in 1834, education was viewed as an important way to integrate ex-slaves into the colonial economy and to ensure a peaceful lower class. After gaining independence in 1962 all children were allowed to attend infant and elementary schools [
6] but only a few students had access to secondary education due to the need to pass a stringent primary exit examination and financial constraints for those who passed the exam [
6]. In the years following independence, leading up to the late 1970s educational provisions in Jamaica were still limited, resulting in the nation having a high level of illiteracy. During the 1980s, educational provisions deteriorated and ‘the poorer strata in the society were generally more seriously affected by the deteriorating provision’ [
7]. During this period, teachers had limited or no resources to work with, enrolment in primary schools declined and there were high levels of grade repetitions and school dropouts. Currently, Jamaica is transforming its education system and building the capacity of a network of institutions to improve the quality of its educational services [
8].
1.2. Background to the Study
It is Jamaica’s vision to develop an education and training system that produces well-rounded and qualified individuals who will be empowered to learn for life and productively function in society and be competitive in a global context [
9]. As Jamaica strives to take its place within a fiercely competitive and highly globalized marketplace, its school graduates must be equipped with the requisite mathematical knowledge needed to access the kinds of jobs that are emerging and to be able to compete internationally [
10]. This vision is, however, hampered by the underachievement that still prevails in mathematics in Jamaica despite efforts to improve mathematical instructions. This view has been endorsed by Buddo [
11], who opines that the school subject of mathematics in Jamaica has always presented challenges for learners at all levels of the educational system. Buddo [
11] further lamented that, since the 1980s, the Jamaican Ministry of Education has embarked on various projects or initiatives to address the poor performance in mathematics by students who sit the national assessment tests or the Caribbean Examination Council’s Secondary Education Certificate Examination (CSEC). However, despite these interventions, the overall performance in mathematics continues to be below expectations. It is clearly evident from statistical data, which show that, for the ten-year period 2009–2018, students’ average attainment rate on: The Grade Four Numeracy Test fluctuated between a low of 41 percent and a high of 66 percent; The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) scores in mathematics fluctuated between a low of 53 percent and a high of 62 percent; The Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) examination fluctuated between a low of 31.7% and a high of 62% [
12].
The unsatisfactory performance of students in mathematics and the low levels of numeracy exhibited by students and graduates of the Jamaican educational system have been a cause of much concern for stakeholders in education in the private and public sectors [
10]. As stated in Jamaica’s mathematics and numeracy policy, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture (MOEYC) recognised that the nature of teaching and learning is a contributing factor to the poor performance and underachievement in mathematics [
10]. Ministry policy has identified effective teacher pedagogy as an important tool that can be used to promote high levels of numeracy and facilitate the overall mathematical development and achievement of students. It was clearly outlined in the policy that experiences provided in the classroom should be geared towards the development of skills which enable not only meaningful use of the ideas learnt but also the development of problem solving and critical thinking skills. This is difficult to achieve, however, unless focus is placed on the quality of mathematics teaching. As suggested by the Ministry of Education [
10], mathematics lessons should be focused on facilitating the development of problem-solving skills so that mathematics teaching at all levels of the educational system will enable the development of analytical, reasoning and critical thinking skills. One way to achieve this goal is to identify, adapt and implement the best practice observed in mathematically high-performing countries.
The Mathematics Enhancement Programme (MEP), which was pioneered by Professor David Burghes, is based on the premise of best practices observed in mathematically high-performing countries such as Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore and Finland [
13,
14]. Therefore, the structure of the MEP may be able to help the Jamaican education system address some of the issues it faces in its mathematics classrooms. As suggested by Burghes [
14], the MEP is geared at helping students develop their analytical and critical thinking skills, which are the skills that the Jamaican educational system identifies as being critical if performance in mathematics is to be improved [
10]. Studies have shown that the MEP has been able to positively impact performance in mathematics in several first world countries [
13,
14]. The question then is that if the MEP is adapted, tailored and implemented in Jamaican mathematics Primary classrooms, would it have a similar impact. This study investigated the impact of the MEP has on Jamaican students’ attainment in mathematics.
Studies have shown that there is a significant correlation between students’ attitude towards mathematics and their performance in the discipline [
14,
15,
16,
17]. As defined by Eshun [
18], attitude towards mathematics is ‘A disposition towards an aspect of mathematics that has been acquired by an individual through his or her beliefs and experiences, but which could be changed’. Zan and Martino [
19] suggested that a positive attitude towards mathematics reflects a positive emotional disposition in relation to the subject and a negative attitude towards mathematics relates to a negative emotional disposition. Eshun [
18] added that a student’s disposition towards a subject area affects the way he/she performs in the subject. It was also suggested by Eshun [
18] that one is likely to achieve better in a subject that one enjoys, has confidence in or finds useful. Evidence of this was recorded in the work of Nicolaidou and Philippou [
16] where is it was found that students who had a positive attitude towards mathematics performed better than those who displayed a negative attitude. Eshun [
18] concluded that positive attitudes towards mathematics are desirable since they may influence one’s willingness to learn and the benefits one can derive from mathematics instruction. For a Mathematics Enhancement Programme to be effective, it must aid in helping students develop a positive attitude towards the subject. What impact will the MEP have on students’ attitude towards mathematics? To answer this question, this study also investigated the impact the MEP has on students’ attitudes towards mathematics.