One of the great successes of the Barbados development model is its educational accomplishments among which is to provide educational opportunity from nursery to university to most of its citizens. A major part of this success has been our female population when one considers the continuing plight of females in developing countries as regards their struggle to receive basic primary education.
A reminder of this fact came to mind when it was announced recently that Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani woman who was shot in her head only because the Taliban in her country are against the education of women, had just finished her last day of secondary education in England.
The Barbados experience as regards female education is not dissimilar to that in the developed world. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Barbadian females were given an opportunity, albeit grudgingly so, to participate in the education system thorough private academies and parochial schools offering such subjects as French, Needlework, Embroidery, Dancing and Drawing. This era produced the public elementary school for both boys and girls. Outstanding among such institutions were the Colonial Charity School for Girls and the Central School for Boys and Girls, the former evolving into Combermere and the latter into Queen’s College.
By the middle of the twentieth century, however, at the primary level, there was no discrimination between the sexes as regards educational opportunity for wherever there was a boys’ primary school, there was the neighbouring girls’ primary school. On the other hand, the mass education of girls at the secondary level was constrained by the existing social thought that the place of the woman was in the home. However, the establishment of St. Michael Girls’ School set the platform for the rapid escalation of female education in Barbados.
When Barbados in the 1950s was faced with an increasing and high population density, it was the perfect setting for the establishment of the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) in 1954. The primary message of the BFPA was the reduction of the county’s birth rate through a programme of family life education and contraception services. What was equally important was that the Barbadian female was sufficiently educated to understand the benefits of such a programme. As a result, the BFPA expanded its services and became a critical agency in assisting governments to establish that equilibrium between controlled population expansion and its ability to provide adequate social, health and educational services.
Towards the last quarter of the twentieth century or even before, the education of our female population experienced a virtual explosion. At the secondary level, they had gained equal opportunity with their male counterparts. Their numbers at the Barbados Community College and the UWI, Cave Hill were exceeding those of the males. And at the Barbados Scholarship level, their gains were commendable. It is realistic to say that within the Barbados context, our females are now equally as educated as their males within the population.
The modernization of Barbados since Independence has seen a rapid upward mobility among the female population. Many of them have acquired high status jobs and positions that once were the special preserve of the men. Just a few examples would suffice. Dame Nita Barrow, a prominent international nurse, became the first female Governor General of Barbados. Dame Billie Miller became the first female Minister in a Barbados Cabinet. The Revenue Commissioner of the Barbados Revenue Authority is Ms. Margaret Sivers. The Principal of the UWI, Cave Hill is Professor Eudine Barriteau. The Leader of the Barbados Labour Party is Ms. Mia Mottley. The President of the Barbados Bar Association is Ms. Liesel Weekes. And the list goes on.
Amidst all the above, there had been for sometime a noticeable decline in the Barbados population. In fact, the statistics show that while in the 1950s the birth rate was 4.42 per woman, the present rate is now 1.7. This decline has prompted the Minister of Education, the Hon. Ronald Jones, to raise the alarm bell and alert Barbadians to the challenges that could occur if the trend continues. He indicated that while in 2012 there were 3 970 children who sat the Common Entrance Examination, this year there were 3 216, a decrease of 754. The Minister’s concern has met with a growing reaction among the populace accompanied by an increasing number of solutions.
What is generally agreed upon among the commentators is that there is a need for a government population policy. The call to have more babies must be done within a comprehensive and properly defined policy frame work. However, the strategy that appealed to me when the Minister first spoke on the issue was that based on a migration policy subsequently advocated by the UNICEF Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Ms. Lwin Khin-Sandi. The most popular strategy, however, among commentators seems to be one based on tax incentives.
A migration policy within the Caribbean to affect a decline in population would be feasible since we share a common history and experience. In fact, migration had been practised for centuries in the Caribbean. The not too recent influx of Guyanese into Barbados is a good example. And what about Haiti? Would a controlled and well managed migration policy, considering such factors as age and educational background between Barbados and Haiti benefit both countries? Or would a full integration of CARICOM countries based on a fully supported freedom of movement regime be a first step towards a population strategy?
My support for a migration policy is based on the fact that it will be extremely difficult for educated Barbadian women, the majority of whom are mostly set on professional careers, to want to have more than one child merely on the fact that Barbados needs to increase its population. Secondly, our women are now more conscious of their rights within the law as mothers and, therefore, more interested in enhancing those rights than bothering too much about increased procreation. Thirdly, the spread of female independence, coupled with a growing lesbianism among them, will also suppress the number of births among women.
The question of tax incentives may, therefore, only appeal to the lower income mothers who may see them as only and solely enhancing their incomes especially in these times of economic hardships. Child bearing, in my opinion, should not be seen within such a purely financial or material sense. Tax incentives to lower income or disadvantaged women and men and or even young people who are unprepared for motherhood may only cause further social and economic stress.
While Minister Jones must be commended for raising the issue of Barbados’ declining birth rate, I believe that further discussion among such organizations as the Barbados Christian Council, The National Organization of Women, the Men’s Education should commence before the idea of taxation becomes a budgetary reality.