By any measure, education is Barbados’ most important growth engine. Symbolically, it is the heart of small economies. Its pulse is a crude indicator – strong when activity units move freely over hierarchal structures, tributaries and networks.
In this context, restructuring an economy requires the identification of blockages and the evolution of existing structures to remove them.
Suppose we view the residuals from our garbage and by way of a public campaign, John and Mary Public are taught to sort garbage into categories, to build collection networks and to create something of value from residuals, we could build an economic network of value.
We could achieve limited national transformation by viewing education as more than a “school thing”. Indeed, it is a change in the way people think and behave that defines turning points in history.
Another example where education is needed is our institutions – sports and political.
Creating and growing an institution is an art that can be learnt. Like life, it has fixed stages and levels. It requires education – members of the institution must be aware and have knowledge of its development process. One of the signs of a growing and maturing institution is the acceptance of self, others and the accomplishments of the institution. Nation building is no different.
Timely, public education is also needed.
A recent press report indicated that Dr. Delisle Worrell, Governor of the Central Bank publicly disagreed with the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund regarding IMF policies, namely devaluation and small societies.
Some time ago, during a Central Bank lecture, he predicted that Barbados would easily overcome the 1973 crisis and identified the quality of our primary school education as one of the factors that would educate and inform the public.
For me, this stand is a worthy news item, but also something that as a nation we should be proud of, especially since Worrell is a credible former senior economist at the IMF. We have had prior experience of this when former Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Sandiford took a similar stand.
So why is there no widespread dissemination of information that would inform the public?
As consumers we know that an increase in the repayment rate of a loan increases the level of payment. In the same way, will devaluation of the dollar automatically increase the cost of imports, and, the demand for foreign exchange?
Why does this issue appear to be an off-limits political education exercise? Is it that some live in false hope? Or is this a case for political education at all?
Our import/export ratio profiles our lifestyle, our tastes, our private sector habits and our foreign exchange lifeline. If our life line is threatened, commonsense says that a cooperative approach is the only way to protect it. We can always argue about cause afterwards.
The Worrell model is not the only concept that is buried in the blame game.
A collective effort raised the quality of education and the expectation of persons who enter the job market today. Both political parties made investments in school places and institutions and parents, students and others have bought into this approach. Many enjoy the prestige and institutional employment that resulted.
However, why do some blame the current government because many persons cannot find lobs? The mismatch between needs and attitudes didn’t happen overnight. The need for debate was raised by Sir Kenneth Hunte in 1962.
Any meaningful reform must start with a broader definition of education to include institutional and public issues. We need a national conversation and campaign but it cannot simply be about the economy and the exchange of one party for another.
Soon, the Alexandra report will be out and I hope that we will be grateful for this wake up call. Our schools need to be converted into centres of influence and transformation. To some extent, we have lost the village — the critical building block of our society. We must mirror citizenship in schools. We can’t leave the debate to the politicians alone.
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