Jamaica on the cutting edge of Curriculum Design: The National Standards Curriculum

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Jamaica on the cutting edge of Curriculum Design: The National Standards Curriculum (NSC)

Mrs. Lena Buckle-Scott


The Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP) has been working assiduously since 2009 to modernize Jamaica’s Education System in keeping with the 2004 Task Force Report on Education Reform. The ESTP has made considerable progress regarding: the modernization and transformation of the Ministry, as well as, legislative and policy reform and system improvement. Curriculum Reform has been an integral component in the transformation of the system. The curricula for primary and lower secondary levels have been completely revised. The revision of the curricula commenced in 2012 and between 2014 – 2016 there was a pilot after which, implementation commenced on a phased basis in September 2016.

Several factors propelled the move to revise the curriculum. However, the fundamental reason is embodied in the recommendations from the 2004 Education Task Force Report. Among other things, the report recommended that the curricula at early childhood, primary and secondary levels were to be reviewed and ensure the articulation at the various transition points.

Further, the fore-runners to the National Standards Curriculum (NSC), the Revised Primary Curriculum (RPC) and the Reform of the Secondary Education (ROSE) Curriculum were already dated. The ROSE Curriculum and the RPC were implemented in the mid 90’s and early 2000, respectively.

Where are we now?

The Ministry now has in place a National Standards Curriculum (NSC) for Grades 1 – 9. It constitutes a Curriculum Framework which, among other things, outlines what children must know and be able to do at each grade level as per subject area. The other component is the Teachers’ Guide which is replete with teaching units for each subject as per grade level.

The significant changes to the revised curriculum are the addition of new subject areas, changes in some existing subjects and the inclusion of new teaching/learning approaches. There are now multiple pathways to education: the Proficiency Pathway and the Alternative Pathway to Secondary Education (APSE). The Proficiency Pathway is a targeted approach to identify students who need special intervention and this continues at the primary level and the APSE was implemented in September 2016.  The APSE encompasses Secondary Pathways I, II, and III – (SPI, SPII and SPIII). These are three pathways that are distinguished by the level of reflective coaching support and customized or individualized learning required to help students succeed. The students on Pathways ll & lll receive support from coaches who are special education trained teachers. Additionally, specialized teaching/learning approaches are employed, for example, Differentiated Instruction, Response to Intervention (RtI) and class size is smaller than the average class size. Ultimately, the aim is to have twenty-five students to one teacher.

It has been recognized globally that universal competencies promote deeper learning by equipping students with the necessary tools to adapt to diverse situations and become lifelong learners who are well suited for the demands of the 21st Century. Everyone must now be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, communicators, collaborators, lifelong learners and stewards of the environment. Therefore, the NSC is written to promote the development of the 21st Century skills of, communication, collaboration, creativity, strategic and critical thinking. The curriculum aims to develop individuals who will, have a love for learning and a belief in success for self and others, demonstrate belief in their capabilities and relate well to others. These individuals will also identify the place of values, morals and attitudes that build a Nation and influence their position in the world as global citizens.

The NSC is a dynamic, challenging, inspiring and inclusive curriculum for the 21st Century learner. The design of the NSC represents a major transformation for the Jamaican education system. There is now a paradigm shift from a content/knowledge -based education sphere to a more competency-based system, which embodies knowledge, skills and attitudes. This approach will invariably ensure that all learners acquire the essential knowledge, requisite skills and desired attitudes for success in their personal life, at the workplace, in the society and within the global environment. The NSC via multiple and flexible pathways through school to tertiary studies and or employment, is geared to maximize the potential for all students to develop competencies that might lead them to employment and so contribute to the future development of the country.

The key aims of the NSC are to develop:

  • successful lifelong learners
  • confident and productive individuals
  • young people who are aware of and value their Jamaican identity and citizenship

These three key aims underpin all learning in the curriculum and provide its purpose and direction so that children:

  • develop a love for learning
  • believe they and others can be successful
  • demonstrate confidence in their ability and relate well with others
  • practise the values and attitudes of “good” citizenship


The underlying philosophical and theoretical foundation of the written curriculum is predicated on a constructivist learning theory. The NSC promotes a learner-centric, holistic approach to teaching and learning. It offers content as a context within which the learner can build his/her understanding and knowledge. Further, the context is replete with learning experiences, through authentic projects, activities and discussions. These then form a basis for the learner to reflect on those experiences, projects, activities and discussions to build on or deepen their existing knowledge and/or build new knowledge. Essentially, the learner constructs meanings for him/herself.

Key Features of the NSC

The following are the new features/changes in the NSC.

  • The NSC constitutes: A Framework Document outlining the– vision, aims, values & principles, the competencies & the subjects


  • Curriculum Standards – outline what all students are expected to know and be able to do at the end of a grade level - in different content areas


  • Teachers’ Guide – The teaching units; learning objectives, teaching/learning strategies, assessment, learning outcomes etc.


  • The NSC emphasises the constructivist approach and it is learner centred.


  • The NSC emphasises the use of, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Depth of Knowledge (DOK), and the 5E’s Teaching Model. As indicated earlier, the underlying philosophical and theoretical foundation of the NSC is predicated on a constructivist learning theory. The 5 E's Lesson Plan Model is an instructional model based on the constructivist approach to learning. The constructivist approach posits that learners build or construct new ideas on top of their old ideas. Each of the 5E's describes a phase of learning, and each phase begins with the letter "E", namely: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The 5E's allow students and teachers to experience common activities, to use and build on prior knowledge and experience, to construct meaning, and to continually assess their understanding of a concept.
  • ICT is used as a tool for instruction in each subject area.
  • Pedagogy is in-keeping with developmentally appropriate practices, and has kept abreast of current and effective trends in education.
  • Greater emphasis is placed on the practical application & integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Responsive to the need to foster the growth and development of persons having a full appreciation of technological creativity, innovation and the competitive edge it provides
  • Provides opportunities for students to learn new and emerging skills.
  • The Visual and Performing Arts are used to drive the curriculum while they still remain as discrete disciplines.

New Areas

  • Civics (as a discrete discipline at Grades 4-9)
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Spanish at Grades 4-6
  • Technical and Vocational areas at Grades 1-3 (Integrated) & 4-6 (Project Based Learning)

Changes in existing Areas

  • Structured Language Arts and Mathematics Programmes

 Daily Programme  at Grades 1 to 3 to support the Literacy 1, 2, 3 Strategies; The programmes now inform the concepts to be taught in the Language Arts &      Mathematics Windows

  •  Sciences -Integrated Science, Physics, Chemistry and Biology  have standardized curriculum at Grade 9 to articulate with the CSEC syllabi
  • History, Geography & Social Studies -Grades 7-9 have standardized curriculum to articulate with the CSEC syllabi
  •  Technical and Vocational - Resource and Technology infused in the integrated programme at 1-3
  • Discrete - Project based learning - at Grades 4 – 6 and 7- 9 


The New Methodologies/Teaching Approaches in the NSC

STEM approach: the NSC places a great emphasis on STEM methodologies with more activity-based, problem-solving and real-world issues. In this regard, the curriculum espouses the methodology inherent in the STEM disciplines in all subject areas. Users of the NSC are required to infuse the Engineering Design Process in lesson delivery, as the lesson lends itself, as well as, develop the students’ inquiring minds, logical reasoning and collaborative skills.

ICT integration:  Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been integrated in the curriculum. The delivery of the NSC is enhanced with the use of Information and Communication Technology and the Aesthetics. The use of ICT such as Internet applications, CD-ROMs, video technology and various computer attachments and software programmes will bring about a more active, and collaborative learning through students’ engagement in ICT-based learning environments. It is anticipated that students will exhibit greater interest and enthusiasm to learn and students’ learning outcomes will be improved.


5E Teaching Model

  • Engage – Activity to hook/grab students’ interest
  • Explore – Activity for students to explore concept
  • Explain – Direct instruction of concept
  • Elaborate – Extend and apply learning to new situation(s)
  • Evaluate – Use of formative & summative assessment to gauge students’ learning


Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Integration

McLean, 2015, TVET Integration Model is used. TVET integration in the NSC is structured upon the Induction through to the Exploration stage, while extending in many respects to the Career Focus stage. The TVET skills are carefully woven into objectives and activities within the curriculum, Grades 1 – 9.

Differentiated Instruction

The teacher is encouraged and guided to respond to a variety of students' needs in the classroom. To meet students' needs, the teacher differentiates by modifying the content (what is being taught), the process (how the content is taught) and the product (how students demonstrate their learning).

At Grades 7 – 9, the SP II & III Curricula are modified to meet the needs of the respective learners. The NSC ensures that regardless of ability all students in a classroom can learn.

Evidence Based Assessment

The NSC requires learners to demonstrate/show evidence of their learning. This may include creating a product at the end of a teaching/learning episode or at the end of a unit of instruction. In this regard the learner can demonstrate, their competence – knowledge, skill and attitude.

The National Standards Curriculum will, in addition to knowledge, place emphasis on the development of higher order thinking skills to ensure that the Jamaican child is prepared for success in the 21st Century global marketplace. The conceptual design employed requires use of an Evidence Centered Design (ECD) approach for test and item construction, as well as Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) approach for defining the rigor of content and cognitive skills measured by the tests. This approach is suited to guide the development of assessments that measure the new curriculum standards. It extends evidence of what students do in a testing situation in order to make statements about what they may know and can do in the real world.

Resourcing the NSC

To date, schools have received considerable support in terms of training of schools’ personnel and resources for implementing and sustaining the delivery of the NSC. Between 2016 and 2017 over 12,000 school administrators and teachers received training in the changes and new methodologies attendant to the NSC. Teachers and student support coaches in the 83 secondary schools that have commenced the APSE also received training in teaching learning approaches such as, Differentiated Instruction and Response to Intervention as well as using the curricula designed for APSE II and III.  On-going professional development will continue in 2018. Further, funds as well as tablets were allocated to schools to enhance the delivery of the NSC. The Ministry has also established Curriculum Implementation Teams (CITs) in the schools. CITs provide leadership, direction and support the delivery of the NSC. Additionally,

an Online Curriculum Portal has been established and this provides access to NSC support materials and facilitate communication with curriculum officers for additional assistance to schools.


The 21st Century is a time of rapid technological growth and social change. Further, the 21st Century demands the development of skills and competence in communication, collaboration, creative and critical thinking.

Therefore, the school curriculum must ensure that young people are well prepared for the present and the challenges, as well as, opportunities they will meet as adults. The NSC is a vibrant and dynamic curriculum that will inspire and provide challenges to all learners; it is an inclusive curriculum that caters for all students. The NSC aims to develop our children to become critical thinkers, problem solvers and lifelong learners who appreciate their Jamaican heritage and are pleased with their Jamaican identity.



Enhancing Education, The 5E’s; Retrieved on January 10, 2018; Retrieved from http://enhancinged.wgbh.org/research/eeeee.html

McLean, Grace, 2015, TVET Integration Model

Task Force on Education Reform Jamaica; Retrieved on December 1, 2017; Retrieved from Jis.gov.jm/estp/docs/Reports/JA Education Reform Task Force 2004.pdf


Profile of Writer

Lena Anan Malia Buckle-Scott

Lena Anan Malia Buckle-Scott holds a Master of Arts in Teacher Education and Teacher Professional Development and a Bachelor of Arts in History and Social Science from the University of the West Indies, Mona. She is also the holder of an Advanced Certificate in Educational Management and a Credit Certificate in Teaching from the University of Mount St Vincent and Shortwood Teacher Training College, respectively. She attended Westwood High School.

She has worked as a classroom teacher for ten years (10 yrs) at Holy Childhood High School and as a Teacher Educator for ten years (10 yrs) at Shortwood Teacher Training College, Jamaica. She has been serving in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information for the past fifteen years (15yrs) in several capacities. Presently she serves as the Deputy Chief Education Officer for Curriculum and Support Services. She has also served the Caribbean Region, specifically, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and the Joint Board of Teacher Education as an external examiner in the areas of: Principles of Business, Social Studies, Geography and History. As a leading expert in curriculum development, she has been instrumental in the development of Jamaica’s National Standards Curriculum for Grades 1 – 9. She has co-authored several Principles of Business textbooks. Mrs Buckle-Scott is also the adviser for the Grade Six Carlong Social Studies textbook. Mrs Buckle-Scott serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board at Port Henderson Primary School in St. Catherine. She is the recipient of several awards including the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for Service to Education.

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