Education cannot only be important if it is free.
That was the message Prime Minister Freundel Stuart issued to Barbadians today as lawmakers discussed education as part of the 2015/2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure debate.
“I don’t want the debate so distorted that the message goes out that you only go to university if you don’t have to pay, but that if you have to pay for university education it is not important. If the only reason any individual is going to university or went is because he didn’t have to pay, we have a problem in society,” he said.
“Opportunities are to be taken advantage of because education is a virtue in and of itself and we can only strengthen Barbados by strengthening ourselves at the individual level, by taking full advantage of the opportunities for which persons gone long before us made sacrifices in terms of ensuring that these opportunities are created for our benefit.”
The Prime Minister contended that the social democratic agenda which Barbados pursued since the 1930s has given rise to a solid middle class which benefited significantly as a result of the investment in education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
“We have more land surveyors, more lawyers, more doctors, more accountants, more economists . . . more people than we have ever had at any time in history and we have trained these people at taxpayers’ expense,” Stuart pointed out.
He maintained that the country could no longer pursue that social agenda on the same terms since the world had changed drastically.
He stressed that Barbadians who benefited from the opportunities must now carry a little more of the burden.
“The first 50 years of Independence, let us be frank about it, were years of entitlement. The next 50 years are going to be years of responsibility. We have to assume greater responsibility for ourselves, those of us who have been empowered. There will also be those persons who are vulnerable who are not in a position to look after themselves and we have to look out for those persons.
“But those persons who have been empowered and who are able to look after themselves are going to have to be prepared to carry the national burden,” the Prime Minister added.
Stuart noted that even when Barbadians did not have to contribute to their education some did not take advantage of it.
But he urged citizens to fully exploit opportunities at the tertiary level to strengthen their capacity to survive in a world that is competitive and more challenging.
“I want to suggest to Barbadians that education is good in and of itself. You are never the worse off for having education. Somebody gives you a dollar they take it back, somebody gives you a material gift they can take it back, but what is put in your head it can’t be taken out. Therefore, we have to take full advantage of the educational opportunities made available to us,” he urged.