Despite its high level of education, Barbados has “an inefficient capacity to innovate”, says Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.
Quoting from the results of the 2014-2015 World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey in which the island ranked 57th out of 144 countries with respect to its innovative capacity, the Government spokeswoman said the result points to “a disconnect between our education system and the demands of the markets in which our businesses must compete.
“It suggests, nay, it screams, the need to re-evaluate our education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Byer-Suckoo, in an address at the start of a two-day conference, held under the theme Entrepreneurship and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM): Exploring areas of Complementarity.
Before the gathering which included several entrepreneurs and NGOs, the minister also highlighted the need for reform of the country’s education system.
In particular, she suggested focus should be placed on “if teachers could be better equipped to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills among students [and] if post secondary and tertiary educational institutions had the capacity to provide the right skills and competencies needed to develop entrepreneurs and business leaders who could drive innovation globally.”
In further analyzing the survey findings, Byer-Suckoo said one important question which also needed to be asked was, “if there was enough research and development in the local university and across the private sector”.
She pointed out that “in spite of the high quality reported in our science education, it was noted in the Global Innovation Report of 2015 that the actual number
of graduates in STEM presented a weakness that limited Barbados’s capacity to innovate.
“Is there a misperception about STEM among our students? Is there more we need to do to encourage our young people to generate new ideas, innovate and explore these opportunities in STEM? These are the kind of questions that I hope would be considered over these next two days as we launch this national dialogue on entrepreneurship, STEM and innovation,”
she told the packed gathering at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Byer-Suckoo further suggested that innovation should be stimulated through “ideation, scientific research, higher levels
of graduates in STEM-related disciplines both in technical and vocational streams and academia at the post-secondary level, supported by increased levels of investment made in research and development”.
“However, on the other end, there must be the enabling environment to support the efficient commercialization of Barbadian innovations and the subsequent growth in entrepreneurship and micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs).This equation as I see it, is not unidirectional. This equation flows in both directions,” she added.
The two day conference forms the fifth pillar of the Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS)
2011-2016, which was approved by Government in 2010. This pillar aims to enhance research to improve innovation
and entrepreneurship and develop capacity.
Byer-Suckoo said she envisioned Barbados as a strong, growing economy over the next 50 years “having successfully developed its people and leveraged their knowledge and skills to become one of the most internationally competitive nations, enriched by its innovations”.
“I anticipate that Barbados will have successfully transformed into an innovation-driven economy and a global leader in science, technology, the arts and mathematics. The country will be recognized for its success in achieving a new standard for sustainable economic growth and human resource development,” she said.
“Innovation is pivotal to this sustained economic growth, as Barbadian businesses must innovate to become more competitive,” she added, pointing out that innovation
was not limited to the creation of new products and processes but could also include existing ones.
However, she acknowledged that “the right mix” of education and training, research and development, applied science and technology, as well as financing was needed for innovation to flourish.