Barbados cherishes its education system. The system has been credited with producing highly successful graduates who then contribute to the growth and development of Barbados.
I am not so convinced about the effectiveness of the educational system, and my views are not hidden on the matter. I have come across yet another reason that shakes my confidence in the educational system which we invest so heavily in.
I have been watching over the last few months as various Barbadians have been evaluating and discussing the situation in which our country finds itself. The analysis seems to be stuck at the level of personalities.
Instead of any dissecting of the issues, the discussion quickly turns into who is a good man, who went to school with whom, and who and who “wutless” and lazy and don’t like work. A debate rages for seven to eight days caught up with who likes whom and who does not like whom, until the public loses interest or the next titillating event occurs.
Professor George Belle, a few months ago, stated that the challenges Barbados faced were political. He expressed the belief that the only way for the country to overcome its challenges of confidence was to go back to the polls.
After the last general election, there were lengthy discussions on vote buying and other irregularities in the voting process. Investigations into the irregularities were promised, but up never pursued. If there is any question at all about the result of the election, and especially since the result was so close, I concur with Professor Belle’s assertion that the result of a free and clear election needs to be a part of Barbados’ strategy to rekindle confidence in its society and economy.
But what have we changed about the electoral process to ensure the next general election result would be any freer and clearer? Will we invite international election watch agencies? Have we made any changes to our election process? Even more central than those questions, does the electorate have the ability to participate in the process of an election as an analytical and educated people?
Based on the discussions on social media, I do not believe that Barbadians are fully aware of the issues. They do not understand their place in the system of governance which we practise. The basic response to politics is “it dirty”. The conclusion is to “leave the politics for the politicians”.
Barbadians generally do not feel their mass agitation and lobby can change the political system. Women are the largest body of voters in the country and because of the lack of a coordinated women’s lobby, the power of this group to shape the political process is not even recognized.
The solution to the problem lies in the traditional strategies that were used to consume politics in the nationalist and independence periods of the Caribbean. During that time, churches, university students, community groups, workers groups (including teachers and oil workers) came together and created structures in relation to the issues affecting the country.
Discussion did not just occur when a particular issue flared up. The analysis was long-term, resulting in position papers and the formation of other framework to oversee solution building.
These groups must help to create an analytic, engaged and knowledgeable electorate. The political system needs to be discussed not only from the perspective of the current two major players but also to establish what the right foundation for Barbados moving forward is.
Case in point: the current impasse between the Ministry of Education and the Barbados Union of Teachers highlights the urgent need for us to drill down into the structures supporting Barbados. Instead of making themselves fully aware of the issues that have created the impasse, most commentators are quick to voice support for one personality or another, or one side or the other. The reality is that what is happening with the island’s teachers is no matter which can be discussed in a vacuum.
The model of education which we have invested in will not take us any farther. The way that we appoint and assess principals and teachers, choose curriculum subjects, evaluate students, intervene among children needing special attention, and inspect and set standards for schools needs to be addressed.
A few years ago, a regrading exercise left the principals of schools above the pay grade of the education officer.
There was some concern about the implications, since the education officer was seen as a part of the management mechanism in the Ministry of Education. Owing to the vagaries created by regarding principals as over education officers, there was a weakening of the management mechanism in the ministry’s structure.
There have also been issues created by the changes in methods of discipline in schools. Where we have been very clear about the practices we wanted stopped within schools, we were less clear about creating mechanisms for discipline. The result is that teachers are highly frustrated and unclear about how to handle discipline.
The general breakdown in conflict resolution, morals and etiquette in Barbadian society is manifesting in the schools. And with the new and growing challenges, the structure of the Ministry of Education remains the same. There is one psychologist in the employ of the ministry. There is no formal mechanism to regulate the interface between the Ministry of Education, the Child Care Board, Probation Department and the Welfare Department. These are the real challenges in education.
Until we establish what are the right models to move Barbados into the next century, the school plant and the players will change but the underlying ailments will be the same –– just as we will get no further until we recognize the shortcomings in the political system.
The analytical skills of Barbadians need to be improved. Our society is right at a serious crossroads. Wait and see is not an option. Travelling the beaten track is not an option.
We need to quickly choose a new path with the confidence and willingness to change in order to make that path viable.
What is your understanding of the political system in which you live? How do you participate in the political process? What do you want to see changed, moving forward?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.)