Prime Minister Freundel Stuart last night warned that public education was not only an entitlement, but a legal requirement in Barbados.
And without making any reference whatsoever to the ongoing legal case between his Government and two Rastafarian parents, who are due to be sentenced here later this month for refusing to send their children to school, Stuart suggested that there were consequences for those found guilty of not safeguarding their children’s education.
“The Ministry of Education, as far as I am aware, has a core of school attendance officers, who roam the streets from week to week to make sure that all of our children who should be in school are there,” said Stuart, while acknowledging that “every child entitled to a primary education can get it, even if also by homeschooling”.
In fact, he told delegates to the opening of the Fifth International Conference on Higher Education at the Hilton Barbados Resort, “You will be hard put to find any household in Barbados, where primary education is not secured, and where secondary education is not secured.”
Last month Ijui Jah and his partner Isartes Ibre were found guilty of breaching Section 41 of the Education Act on the grounds that there was no record of their children ever attending formal classes.
The two Rastafarian children have since been placed in the custody of their paternal grandmother, pending a court decision on whether they should become wards of the court.
However, the couple insists that their son and daughter — who are both under age ten — were being homeschooled.
The matter has sparked public controversy with public opinion currently split on the appropriateness of informal over formal education.
Delivering his feature presentation on the Relevance of Education to Society, the Prime Minister was insistent that while being educated to work was important, learning about the elements that keep a society together should also be given equal regard.
“Education should always reflect the ideals of a people at any given point in time . . . . If we’re going to transform Barbados we have to make sure that there is no disconnect between what the education system is contemplating, and the actual realities on the ground, everyday life in Barbados,” he said.
“We have somehow lost sight of the fact that man is not just created to work,” added Stuart, who immediately conceded that work was still needed.
“Man has to work. By the sweat of his brow man shall eat bread,” he said.
“But anytime an education system gets to the point where all it prepares people for is to work, then something is fundamentally wrong in the society, and society is going to pay a very heavy price for it,” Stuart added.
“We do not want to de-emphasize the importance of the relationship between education and the job market [but] equal emphasis has to be placed on other aspects of our citizenship,” the Prime Minister stressed.