by Latoya Burnham
If the Higher Education Unit of the Ministry of Education has its way, the face of tertiary education in Barbados could be changing forever.
In fact, head of the Unit, Dr. Patrick Rowe says they are preparing to launch a National Research and Education Network next year that has already connected six tertiary related institutions with four more about to come online.
He explained to Barbados TODAY during the lunch break of the Third International Conference on Higher Education 2012 that they were working to iron out any early kinks as well as to decide on the areas in which the teaching, research and development tool could be used.
His comments came on the heels of a presentation on delivering sustainable and cost effective tertiary education by CEO of the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, Ken Sylvester, who told a large gathering of teachers and education officials from across the Caribbean and the globe that currently tertiary education in the Caribbean was not sustainable and a transformation was necessary.
He pointed to current challenges including demand outstripping supply, reduction of Government contributions, limited courses and programme offerings, high cost of connectivity, lack of research capacity, and duplication amongst institutions.
His CKLN, he told Barbados TODAY was developed out of a CARICOM directive and charged to build a regional network called C@ribNET, connecting all schools, colleges and educational institutions among Caribbean countries, which would in turn collaborate and partner in a number of areas related to research and education.
“The infrastructure is now in place and all of the countries are now connected; and now that the countries are connected, institutions, whether they are schools, hospitals, colleges are now effectively connected to one another. So a school in Barbados is connected to a school in Jamaica, Grenada and so on….
“What that means is that they can begin to collaborate in developing courses and programmes and to deliver those courses and programmes,” he said, adding that it would allow these institutions to share programmes virtually using the online network.
The network, Sylvester said, was launched in July and he issued a challenge to institutions to begin taking advantage of its availability.
For its part, Barbados seems willing, as Unit Director Rowe indicated with the intention to launch a local NREN next year.
Along with the Higher Education Unit which is already online, he said so far Barbados Community College, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, Erdiston Teachers Training College, the University of the West Indies’ Open Campus and the UWI at Cave Hill were connected.
Ready for use
“We have tested it and we can connect to Jamaica or Trinidad right now or the Dominican Republic and work with any professor. We got the network up physically. What we have to get the professors to do now is use it because it ain’t no use if they don’t use it.
“The next group coming on line is CXC, Codrington College, Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, and BIMAP.”
He said a number of committees had been set up – one specifically to look at applications, in terms of what they would be doing with the network, setting up specific projects in research which would then be shared with other institutions in other countries online in a collaborative process.
“There are other countries requesting Barbados get involved with other research, but if we are not on the network, we are not participating in these things and there are a lot of it in practically every subject from people all over the world,” said Rowe, who explained that it could also allow parallel studies in countries throughout the world and ready comparison of data and findings.
“We can benefit from that level of research. We have a technical committee, some of the training has already been done… and there is an overall board comprising all the institutions who will actually run the network.”
Currently, this was being managed from the Higher Education Unit.
“Our goal is that early in the year we are going to do a launch and it will be a national event. I am pleased that we have gotten to this point. It took a lot of hard work but we have made some good progress with it.”
He said though this was not the end of the work needed to be done.
“There is a culture that we need to build. We are a good teaching community. Barbados was just ranked seventh in the world by a body out of Geneva and when they looked at education, Barbados was ranked seventh. That’s phenomenal but in terms of ability to be competitive, one of the issues had to do with innovation, we are ranked 91st or something like that. So we have the education context, but translating that into innovation and being able to do the research that is necessary is not something that we do routinely as part of our culture. So that is something we have to work on.”