The start of a new year is seen in almost every culture as presenting an opportunity to turn a new leaf, to make a fresh start. Indeed, the practice of making resolutions, coinciding with the advent of a new year, is reflective of such thinking.
The desire to turn a new leaf comes from a recognition that certain things are not working as they should and, as a result, an obstacle stands in the way of a person or organization achieving their full potential and delivering results for the benefit of the individual, community or country.
A fresh start inevitably involves some degree of fundamental change. It is only when persons or organizations are determined to make a clean break with whatever has been holding them back by committing wholeheartedly to the implementation of an agenda of change, that a fresh start is possible and the way is paved for better to come.
At schools across our island today, teachers and students returned to the classroom as the 2016-17 academic year got underway. Will it be a year of business as usual with a continuation of the myriad problems which have plagued education in recent years, or will the major stakeholders, beginning with the Ministry of Education, seriously commit to a new beginning?
The problems plaguing education are well-known. In the past few years, this important sector, which receives one of the largest allocations of public expenditure each year, has sometimes resembled a battle zone with conflict at almost every level. When it was not the teachers’ unions and the Ministry at loggerheads, it was either teachers and principals, teachers and students, teachers and parents, or the students among themselves.
Such displays of tension, along with indiscipline and lawlessness, which have come to characterize the education system do not provide an environment conducive for learning. There is too a growing debate on whether what is being taught in our schools is really relevant in terms of preparing our children to function in a fundamentally different economy.
Arguably, there has also been a 180 degree turn in the value which students attach to education compared with, say, 50 years ago. Whereas previous generations saw education as the passport to escaping poverty, landing a good job, and moving up the social ladder, many young people today do not see it that way. With the lure of the illegal drug trade with its promise of almost instant wealth, there are some young people who regard going to school as a waste of time.
Against the worrying backdrop of all of these issues, few would disagree that the education system is in need of a fresh beginning. Not only in terms of restoring an environment where harmony, cooperation and respect prevail once again, but also in relation to introducing fundamental reforms to ensure that Barbadian education, as it did in the past, ensures the country stays on the cutting edge.
A fresh beginning must also place emphasis on promoting wholesome attitudinal change, especially among our youth. It was refreshing to hear the President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), Mary-Anne Redman, speak earlier today of her union’s desire to see an overall improvement in education this year.
Real change, however, can only come through a demonstration of the necessary political will and also the exercise of effective leadership by the Ministry of Education as the principal agency responsible for the overall management of the sector. Most importantly, however, the various stakeholders must commit together to making a fresh start.
For this to happen, there must be an open and frank conversation on what needs to be done to restore education to the position of preeminence which it occupied in the past. This discussion must take into account the changing nature of the workplace and the skills that will be in highest demand in the years ahead so that Barbadians will be well positioned to seize those opportunities.
Barbados has traditionally been the Caribbean leader in education. In sorting out the vexing issues and planning for the future, we have a rich history of accomplishment which can serve as an inspiration for building success in the future. With the political will, and the cooperation and commitment of stakeholders, we can do it again and achieve even higher levels of success.
A peaceful and productive 2016-17 academic year to all!