A Government Senator today declared Barbados’ education model shortsighted and called for it to be revamped.
And as the debate on tuition fees at the University of the West Indies (UWI) continues, Verla DePeiza also warned that if Barbadians wanted to continue receiving free tertiary education, they should be prepared to be hit hard by the taxman.
Contributing to debate on the Estimates in the Senate, she argued that the current system celebrated scholars, ran the risk of dismissing others, and did not open its arms to children with disabilities.
“We need to build our education to the point where everybody feels included,” she said as the Estimates debate continued.
“We need to reshape education so that it means more than passing the Common Entrance at 11 and heading to Harrison College and Queen’s College . . . We need to celebrate our scholars; I have no difficulty with that. I have a difficulty with making the rest feel as though they have no worth.”
DePeiza was also passionate about what she saw as the exclusion of the vast majority of people with disabilities from the education system.
She identified President of the Senate Kerryann Ifill and 2014 Barbados Exhibition winner Janeil Odle – both of whom are visually impaired – as among the few who had been able to overcome challenges in the current system to excel.
And she argued that Barbados was losing out because of the education system’s failures.
“[The disabled] are the other group of deserving Barbadians who need to be included when we speak about education for all . . . Because you use a wheelchair, because you use a cane, because you wear dark glasses, because you walk ‘funny’ and can’t talk ‘properly’ does not mean that your brain does not function,” DePeiza said.
“We are losing an entire set of people who have a lot to offer to this country if we only concentrate on those who have academic capabilities that are not also with physical obstructions.
“That is what our education model has been up to this point. We need to move away from that as a development model,” the Government Senator added.
At the same time, she congratulated the Ministry of Education for understanding the need to expose schools to vocational training and introducing the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ) programme at newer and older secondary schools and special education schools.
“We need to have our intellectuals, but since we can’t change our washers ourselves or build our own houses, our artisans are just as valuable,” DePeiza said.
As she zoomed in on education during her contribution, DePeiza addressed the controversial decision by Government last year to stop paying tuition fees while continuing to foot the economic costs for Barbadians at the tertiary institution.
She contended that it was time that those who had benefited from free university education gave back by paying a portion of the cost of education for their children.
The attorney-at-law was adamant that in order for Government to continue footing the bill, taxpayers would have to pay big.
She used the examples of developed countries Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark which were noted for free tertiary education and devoted between 10 and 16 per cent of public expenditure to education.
However, she pointed out that they also took between 48 and 60 per cent of citizens’ income through income tax and charged 19 to 25 per cent in Value Added Tax (VAT).
“So to all those persons who say that Barbados should give free education to tertiary level are you prepared to pay over 50 per cent of your income and over 25 are thereabouts in VAT?” she asked.
“We call it free, but it is not free education. Taxpayers pay for it!”
She further suggested that if many university students realized that they were paying “a drop in the bucket” of the full cost of their education they would stop wasting time and money.