Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | January 15, 2013
Home : Commentary
Mental ability and its place in schools
Lyssette Hawthorne-Wilson , Guest Columnist
Lyssette Hawthorne-Wilson , Guest Columnist

As a child growing up, I remember using a paperback green book in primary school simply called Mental Ability in Schools. This book had both questions and answers and helped me to study on my own in class and on holidays. This was bought and given to me in grade four, and I believe it was the same book that carried me to grade six, even though it was no longer the official text. This was 35 years ago.

Mental ability was a session in my class that gave the teacher the opportunity to help us students to reason. My teacher always said that we ought to use common sense to get through life. She would use practical situations to reason. My mother, who was also a teacher in the same school I attended, was the queen of mental ability, because not only did she conduct classes on the subject with her grade-one students, but our home became a classroom all season.

The mental ability sessions she and my grade-four teacher created have carried me through school, where I applied that skill to all my subjects and had to utilise it when I studied part-time over the last few years.

no reasoning ability

As a teacher myself, I find that annually 75 per cent of the students I teach in first form are unable to reason. As soon as I give problem solving in any subject matter, the first thing that they would utter is, "Lord God, maths!" or "Me head a go buss!" (May I tell you that I do not teach maths.) Each time when I make each task simple, they would say, "Was it that easy?"

I took it upon myself to check with some primary-school teachers to investigate how many still use mental-ability books in school. First, some grade-four classes use it unofficially; second, it is not on the book list in many of the schools and at the grade-six level, as many of the teachers do not see the need to use it, because of the stress of preparing for GSAT and getting students passing that national examination (what a stress!).

Today, with mathematics results being consistently dismal annually, why can't the Ministry of Education allow the formulation of a mental-ability assessment programme in first form? Standardise this assessment according to a formula (levels of questions which are research-based) that can determine what level of reasoning students are utilising and provide an intervention programme to help students to think, rationalise, reason problems and write their own problem-solving questions and answers.

do an assessment

Develop a mental-ability question-and-answer bank (Q & A) so that teachers and students can use questions that can help others with such a skill deficiency. Appoint a teacher in each school who can be given such a programme one hour twice weekly and do follow-up assessments to track their mental development in reasoning skills. The teacher should present her findings - either written or oral - but they should be documented and published so as to provide best possible approaches to others who are in need.

If this approach is developed both in the primary and high schools, it can assist in reducing the problem of non-thinking students. I also believe this approach not only can improve mathematics and reasoning in grades 11-13, but also enhance life skills in general.

Let us bring back the mental-ability books for the grades four to six in schools and create better-thinking students. How about it? Let us reason!

Lyssette Hawthorne-Wilson is a teacher at a Trelawny high school and part-time lecturer at two universities. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lysdave@yahoo.com.

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