The only sensible way forward for Barbados economically is for us –– the citizens of Barbados –– to assume the primary responsibility for establishing and running productive enterprises in our country, and basing such enterprises squarely on the educational and human development that we have attained
as a national population. In other words, we need to jettison the backward and self-defeating idea that we must wait for so-called “foreign investors” to come to our rescue, or that we should opt for a model of “so-called” development that is based on increasing the number of Barbadians employed in unskilled, low technology, dead-end, manufacturing, tourism or other service jobs.
But if we are to successfully embark upon such an economic mission, we must first provide our nation with a revamped “education system” that is designed to reproduce, preserve and root us in our distinctive Bajan/Caribbean national culture, and to foster a national propensity for self-confidence, initiative, high academic and technical achievement, social solidarity, cooperative work, independent thought, and self-reliance.
It is against this background, therefore, that I would like to propose the following reforms to our system of education:
Highest international standards. We must set out to achieve the highest international standards in every single Barbadian school. Thus, we must scrap the currently existing practice of dumping all of the low academic achievers in five or six secondary schools at the bottom of the proverbial ladder, while at the same time placing all of the high academic achievers in the three or four secondary schools at the top.
This educational structure is failing far too many of our students, and has led to a situation in which some 60 per cent of our children graduate from secondary school without a single academic certificate to their name, and without having acquired any marketable technical or artistic skills.
My advice to our Government is that it should sit down with our educators and their professional organizations and work out a more just, sensible and educationally constructive system. Furthermore, we must design a new educational system in which weaker students who need greater pedagogical assistance get it, in the form of smaller classes, more individual attention, and access to remedial education teachers and programmes.
Education for doing and self-reliance. I am also proposing that we consciously set out to dismantle the false distinction between so-called “mental labour” (academic education) and “manual labour” (technical or vocational education) by exposing all students in our secondary schools to some basic instruction in such technical skills as carpentry, agronomy, electrical wiring, mechanics, plumbing, and masonry. Indeed, we should aimto create a Barbadian population that possesses enough “technical literacy” to permit our families to be able to construct and maintain their own homes (if they so desire), and to engage in family or communal food production.
In addition, we should construct and graft on to our national system of education a new “apprenticeship- based” component of the system. In other words, let us create a national programme that gives our secondary school students –– at the age of, say, 15 years –– the option of transitioning into an apprenticeship scheme or programme.
National identity formation.
The education that we impart to our young people should also be designed to “root” them in a profound understanding of and appreciation for their Bajan/ Caribbean/Pan-African heritage and culture.
Thus, we must ensure that during the years of primary, secondary and tertiary education our youth are being systematically introduced to their own Barbadian/Caribbean/Pan-African history, music, poetry, literature, folklore, geography, dramatic plays, films, nation language, dance, visual arts, craft, and systems of philosophy and spirituality.
Indeed, we need to take to heart the notion that a people possessed of a distinctive and unique national culture have within their grasp an “inner wealth” that has the potential to imbue them with the invaluable characteristics of self- confidence, self-respect, and self-reliance; and we must therefore spare no effort to explore, preserve and transmit all important elements of our national culture! Values education. Our education
system also needs to be so redesigned that it becomes equipped to consciously and systematically respond to the cultural and ethnical dissipation and nihilism that we see all around us in Barbados today. And it must do so by providing our youth with manhood/womanhood training and preparation, and with education in “civics” and in the practice of participatory citizenship.
This reform will require the entire educational establishment to come together in order to brainstorm a new and practical methodology for seamlessly inserting such instruction into the existing system. Our aim must be to create a cohort
of young adult citizens steeped in the ethos of a democratic, participatory political culture, and committed to such universal and/or national values as social equality, cooperative work and enterprise, national sovereignty, and respect for the civil and human rights of all members of the society.
Education as an industry. And, lastly, we must set out to establish “education” as a foreign exchange- earning industry in its own right, and a new addition to the productive engines of our economy.
The current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government is extremely backward and unenlightened in its approach to education. Not only has it committed an unforgivable sin by dismantling our system of “free” tertiary education at the University of the West Indies, thereby causing the number of Barbadian students at UWI to decline by some 3,200; but it also seems not to have grasped the idea that “education” is a sphere in which Barbados enjoys a comparative advantage, and could be developed into a new foreign exchange-earning industry.
Barbados –– after all –– already has an historical tradition of providing educational services for Caribbean and extra-regional students at such institutions as Codrington College, The Lodge School, Codrington High School and Erdiston Teachers’ Training College.
Furthermore, we currently possess a gem of a university campus –– in the form of our Cave Hill Campus –– and its associated Errol Barrow Centre For Creative Imagination, located in close proximity to the high-end tourism attractions of the West Coast.
In addition, Barbados possesses a reputation for order, stability and personal safety that would add to its attractiveness as a regional and international centre for education services.
Surely, with the application of just a little imagination we should be able to conceive of the possibility of establishing a foreign exchange-earning education industry built around not only the afore- mentioned educational institutions, but also the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity (BIMAP), the Barbados Community College, and such iconic Barbadian secondary schools as Harrison College, Combermere, Queen’s College and the Ursuline Convent, as well as a number of totally new, specially designed institutions.
Education to the rescue. My vision for the future development of Barbados is not only centred on the idea of establishing an education industry with a foreign exchange-earning capacity, but also around the notion that there are at least 19 other developmental initiatives we can embark upon, once we have as our foundation a revamped education system capable of producing a conscious, patriotic, culturally rooted, highly educated and trained population.
We will next turn our attention to these proposed developmental initiatives in the concluding parts of this extended essay.
(David Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)