Dominica's new PhD Dr Jean Thomas -Jeremy
Dominica's new PhD Dr Jean Thomas -Jeremy

"Thank you Jesus, Hallelujah!"

That's how Dr. Jean Thomas-Jeremy reacted when she received a letter recently from The University of the West Indies (UWI) informing her that she had earned a PhD in Educational Leadership (Higher Education).

"That is the only way I knew how to respond; not that I doubted my successful completion but it was a challenging journey and just wanted to know that finally it's over," Dr. Thomas-Jeremy said.

Dr. Thomas-Jeremy's journey to the heights of academic achievement, earning a PhD, began in August 2015 and ended in July 2019 but it was not all smooth sailing.

"My journey to completing the degree was challenging but not difficult," she said. "It was a chapter in my life where every aspect of my life underwent pressure but I persevered. There were times when I got blocked by the university as the finance for tuition was not always forthcoming but God in His faithfulness always provided. After Hurricane Maria when I received the news of Leave of Absence I cried uncontrollably but my eight year old daughter looked at me and she said, "Mummy, God never makes a mistake." These words continue to reverberate in my ears. I spent long nights at the Melville Hall Fire station in order to access the internet. Many nights were sleepless trying to complete assignments and prepare for the comprehensive exam but I was mindful that there were people who wanted to see me succeed and I could not disappoint them. Also, I am guided by the mantra that "winners never quit" so throwing in the towel was never an option."

Dr. Thomas-Jeremy was not the only "winner" who never did quit at earning PhD's. Probably for the first time in the history of the UWI in Dominica, three Dominicans earned PhD's within a month. The other two are Dr. Kimone Joseph, Head of the UWI Open Campus and Dr. Barry Casimir, the Programme Officer.

Dr. Thomas-Jeremy said that three Dominicans having received PhD's is "quite a phenomenal feat since you know the challenges that distance and online students would have faced after Hurricane Maria".

A fourth student is expected to graduate soon with a PhD and to continue to make contributions to the development of the education sector in Dominica and the Caribbean at the highest level.

With her research into "Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate Mathematics: The Role of Leadership and Historic Data" -Dr. Thomas-Jeremy, a native of Coulibistrie and English Teacher at the North East Comprehensive School, has positioned herself to influence change in Caribbean education.

"The purpose of the research was to explore the factors contributing to the disparity in performance between public and private secondary schools in Dominica at the CSEC Mathematics examination," Dr. Thomas-Jeremy said. "Emphasis was also leveraged on the role of school's leadership and their use of historical data as it relates to improving mathematics performance in Dominica".

The major findings, she said, were that at both public and private schools "there is the absence of a data culture and minimal use is made of the data collected by school stakeholders (principals, teachers, parents and students)".

The other revelations were that "Several principals lacked the ability to effectively guide staff in utilizing the data collected at the schools". Additionally:

  • "Teacher quality (teacher training, qualifications and level of confidence in teaching Mathematics at 4th and 5th form level) of Mathematics teachers.

  • "Limited exposure (insufficient time to complete CSEC syllabus) of students to the CSEC curriculum".

From her research, Dr. Thomas-Jeremy makes the following recommendations for improving students' performance in Mathematics:

  • "Training is needed for principals in data use and school leadership as well as greater levels of collaboration.

  • "Improvement is needed in teacher quality as it relates to formal training of Mathematics teachers in both Math pedagogy and data use.

  • "The Mathematics curriculum at primary schools needs to be reviewed so as to better prepare students entering secondary schools. Public secondary schools must also be given greater levels of autonomy in executing the CSEC Mathematics curriculum based on their students' needs.

  • "The re-vamping of the National Mathematics Teachers' Association to foster greater levels of collaboration and networking among mathematics teachers.

  • "Schools must schedule teachers for common planning time during the school day to allow teachers to plan interventions and instruction for students.

  • "The Ministry of Education can also recommend to CXC to implement strands of Mathematics based on career interest, and reintroduce the basic proficiency exam for students not desirous of pursuing tertiary education".

These recommendations, if implemented, should help improve scores in mathematics in Dominica and indeed the CARICOM region. The data shows that while there has been some improvement over the last decade the average primary and secondary school student continue to struggle with basic mathematics ideas.

But for Dominica's new PhD what other mountains are there left to climb?

"I am God ordained and destined so I await His command. He does all things well in His time" said Dr. Thomas-Jeremy.

(Revised from feature article first published on March 10, 2020 issue of The SUN).