We have established the importance of education to our society and our future development, but before we can become too immersed in the financing options, we must assess the relevance, quality, demand and supply, and employment of the available assets and plant into this service.
Deployment of plant, assets and resources. Barbados has a wealth of plant and facilities, both private and public, across pre-primary (nursery), primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The investment in plant and resources will never be directly proportional to the output derived by each student, if we were to value an individual programme of study at any level, based on time spent pursuing. Significant investment is required in equipment, technology, faculty training. So how can we better deploy these assets and resources to maximize output that satisfies our socioeconomic goals?
1. Pre-primary and primary –– Government has already unveiled and has been pursuing its strategy to increase the number of nursery and primary schools across the island to expand access within each community, to reduce commute times, but also to reduce overcrowding which would directly have an effect on the learning experience.
These institutions represent a very key step in the future education of students and resources in technology and ability to assess learning capabilities for better streaming must be made available at this level. There are opportunities for public-private partnerships in the outfitting of facilities in an effective manner;
2. Secondary –– each of our parishes has at least one secondary school, with expected higher concentration in more urban locations like Christ Church and St Michael. A strategy to systematically over the next several years bring the facilities of each school to equal standard, and enhance or create the ability to provide classes across the spectrum of the curriculum is vital to the future of our system and our national development. A child should not have to pass for St Lucy Secondary or Grantley Adams Memorial to excel at or simply have the opportunity to pursue woodwork and metalwork.
Likewise, neither should a child only be deemed capable of sciences and technical drawing by virtue of a pass for Harrison College or Foundation School. Additionally, once equality of plant and facilities is accomplished, then lesser focus on a Common Entrance and specific grades to reach a specific school will be required.
Finally, there must be better alignment with subject choices students are asked to make at this level and the tertiary level –– again with a view to aligning with our needs at the national level.
3. Tertiary –– The university has done a tremendous job working with the private sector and Government, and with limited resources to build out its plant, infrastructure and equipment to more than adequately meet the needs of students and faculty. While it is not certain why this model tends to work so well at this level, the lessons may be applicable at the secondary and primary levels.
Several private institutions exist providing training in a range of professional fields, in addition to our Community College and Polytechnic and at this tertiary level the creation of centres of excellence that directly meet the needs of our two foreign reserve earning sectors and emerging industries –– tourism, international business, technology, agriculture.
Demand-driven; not supply-pushed. It is my opinion that at the nursery, primary and secondary levels our education system is demand-driven, and this is to be expected as individuals ensure that they meet the minimum required educational standard. At the tertiary level, however, this does not appear to be so clear-cut and may actually be more supply pushed than demand driven. There will always be demand, but I maintain my view on the need for a National Development Plan. Once basic educational standards have been met, and without dictating, students should be encouraged to pursue the training in areas that will directly impact and propel our foreign exchange
A centre of excellence would provide for research and training relevant to a specific sector (say tourism) and seek to develop skills sets in that area (chefs, hospitality staff, quality assurance personnel, marketing executives, and so on). The key benefit of the centre, outside of being a formal part of our educational system, is that the training will be tailored to our circumstance and our limitations as a country and a region.
The centres can be stand-alone institutions or subsets of the UWI, or any other tertiary body, and will also be charged with monitoring, in conjunction with Government and private sector, the outcomes and changing needs of these core sectors to our economy. For growth supply needs to meet development goals as a demand-driven approach will only create further unemployment issues.
Quality. It is vital that our educational system demonstrate quality, regardless of who is making the assessment. I have had the opportunity to be a part of a quality assessment review team at the UWI, and in the context of that exercise there were varying views on quality expressed by faculty, students, graduates, employers and professionals; and the issues of quality should not be taken exclusively as applicable at the UWI level, as there are similar issues across the system. Quality must be monitored against the following at a minimum:
1. Training and assessment of faculty –– High standards for faculty are of an absolute necessity. Faculty must be able to demonstrate their command of the subject area at all times and this should be readily noticeable by those entrusted to their teaching. A system of regular professional development and performance assessment should be implemented not only for the student feedback but also for the growth of faculty in delivering an institutions programmes.
2. Practical component to learning –– Our educational system has been heavily tipped towards theory and exam preparation. There is need for the inclusion of mandatory practical components to all courses that enforce the theories learnt and researched. The creation of links between educational institutions and the business community is also a very useful approach to enhancing the theoretical components. Enhancing the learning experience in this manner improves employability, but also interest and development in the chosen discipline
3. Core skills –– In a services-based economy we need rounded professionals possessing superior skills of analysis, communication and negotiation. Our educational system must be focused on creating these skills from pre-primary to tertiary and the opportunities exist at each level to accomplish this.
Our educational system must output graduates at all levels fit for purpose; if not our educational system has failed us and the value of the investment will be below expected return. These matters may appear trivial, but with the onset of fees at the UWI, will quickly be brought into question as both offence and defence in the fight against a move away from 100 per cent free education in our nation.
Next week we consider in the final instalment the proposed fee structure, financing options and alternatives and what this means for the future of education and our socioeconomic development.