Senator Darcy Boyce has alluded to a predisposition in “the early structure” of Barbados’ educational system towards “valuing academic subjects highly and to the neglect of formal technical and vocational training”, and points to two consequent “problems”.
“The first was the assumption that academic proficiency indicated greater proficiency and the right to heavy investment in the person’s education. The other problem was a disconnect between theory and practice in developing the individual and the country.”
The question is: when did this all start? Certainly not in the 1950s and 1960s when nigh every primary school leaver’s goal was to exit his institution proficient in writing, reading and comprehension, and grounded in mental and written arithmetic? Not in the days when it was considered a must to be able to read aloud articulately, and dictation was a staple of classes?
Not in the days when the secondary school graduate expanded upon this primary school foundation?
Not in the day when graduate school students, equally educated, chose their jobs by passion, personal preference, association or calling, their work ranging from teacher to clerk, to technician, to carpenter, to joiner to mechanic, to seaman, to farmer, to musician, to soldier . . . ?
Senator Boyce argues that the time has come for us to encourage more of our brilliant minds towards the pursuit of technical and vocational education that “focuses on the practical application of theories, principles and knowledge”, the assumption, of course, being that these better minds are indeed exclusive –– or nearly so –– to the “academic” side.
Of course, this is a myth that needs to be debunked –– a fable founded on the projection of academia as the only dream environment. It was politicians like Senator Boyce himself who removed academia, by way of “university life”, from the real world, placing it in a campus ivory tower –– where many of us are deluded into believing it still resides.
A University of the West Indies graduate, as a moderator on a radio call-in programme one day, was heard to say again and again in a debate with a listener that UWI graduates were “educated” and those not attending varsity were “uneducated” –– this in 2013. And Senator Boyce refers to “brilliant minds” that are so needed from “academia”!
The truth is many a great Barbadian has come out of the University of the West Indies, despite the skewed notions some of us hold about academics, and enjoy other careers outside of the academe. On the other side, there are graduates of the said institution who do no credit to their alma mater. Maybe, it was the converse.
It is not unknown of university graduates having no clue of functional English and being incapacitated when it comes to writing a simple letter or report; there is great difficulty foregoing misspellings and bad grammar. Being an academic in these parts may or may not result in a great job done.
The one thing that Barbadians have already come to know is that academia is not the only heavenly circumstance. And so Senator Boyce will have been late in discerning the general change of focus. And once the myth of the academic “dream job” has finally died, the culture that insists if you don’t have a Master’s or a doctorate you haven’t yet arrived might be brought to crumbliness.
We can really do without the overproduction of PhDs that serve no practical purpose.
What we need to be careful of though is that in debunking the academia myth we do not throw away the concept of core knowledge and functional learning. We must all be properly trained in usage of English, and constantly practise its applications. No matter what career we decide upon, competent communication is key.
No one needs to be able to recall every Shakespearean quotation verbatim, or to recite all of George Lamming’s In The Castle Of My Skin, but a healthy appreciation and enjoyment of these works does a brain good, and helps to foster clear and intuitive thinking.
It was the ability to read and write well –– and love it –– that inspired and fired our forefathers to cut a path for us. To allow that way to advancement to become overgrown by rhetorical gobbledegook and obfuscation does nothing for the good name of our forbears and offers no comfort for the future.
The current meld of the so-called academic and the non-academic –– particularly among the more accomplished and perceptive of us –– will continue to manifest the enjoyment that may be got from careers wide and far between. And the ability to speak as one of one (having been grounded in the English language), and being well aware of our varying strengths, specialities and expertises, will be the base of our continued development and that of our country.
Frankly, those of us with the deeper inner feelings –– of academia or not –– do not need to be told this. We already know it.