Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” – Socrates.
Prior to 2013-2014, the Government of Barbados held an untainted view on linkages between education and development. The evidence of personal and national development in Barbados since the 1950s, points to the fact that investments in education contributed to the common good, economic growth, and nation-building.Successive governments since Grantley Adams’ 1954 Cabinet made investments on education; thereby, capitalizing on the country’s human resources.
Emphasis was on physical and instructional education together with adequate teacher training. The returns enhanced Barbados’ national prosperity, redounded to support family life and well-being, contributed to community and neighbourhood cohesion, assisted in narrowing gender and other social inequalities, allowed for uplifting activities and programmes, and encouraged thinking and cognitive skills. There were deeper gains for Barbados’ institutions, systems, businesses, managers, leaders, and overall governance.
Quite correctly, the 2013 Manifesto of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) indicated that the‘Founding Fathers understood that a nation which fails to invest in its youth is a nation without a future’. The same message was repeated in the Throne Speech of 2013. From both platforms, the assurance was that ‘we cannot rest on our laurels’. The Throne Speech also proclaimed that Barbados’ future was ‘secure’ and that ‘our education system and its achievements to date’ were renowned.
Dr Dan Carter would have recently asserted that“resources should be available to provide a curriculum that targets the multiple intelligences of students to ensure that each student gains from classroom instruction.” Indeed, the DLP had re-committed to “move with haste to create an education system that also fosters a spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurship and produces persons with the skills for wealth creation, for a more competitive job market and for effective living.” What happened?
By August 2013, the DLP through Finance Minister Chris Sinckler, floored Barbadians when he announced that“effective 2014, Barbadian citizens pursuing studies at campuses of the UWI will be required to pay tuition fees from academic year 2014/2015.” Almost laughably, the same Sinckler suggested that the Government of Barbados recognized that ‘access to education at all levels’ has been a key factor in the success of Barbados. There was a noticeable disconnect with the DLP’s spokespersons’words and their actions which would herald in a new era of inequalities and fracture education as a valuable input to national development.
If funding education became problematic due to a recessionary period, then why was there a mad rush to roll back on Barbados’ commitment to ‘free education’ without having national consultations or even moving towards finding innovative ways to get around the problem? Was it an admission of a bankruptcy of ideas from the Freundel Stuart-led Cabinet? Instead of moving to greater inclusiveness in education, the fallout became a tremendous burden on parents, students, and the businesses that would normally absorb graduates into their workforces.
Today, the perils of little or no economic growth for several years have gradually exposed a decaying society characterized by gross inequalities, systemic challenges, and increasing crime. Although the unemployment ratio would show a marginal decline to 9.5 %, word from the unions, the private sector, and other entities remain concerned about the nature of underemployment that nullifies the capacity to work for decent wages and salaries. Burdening taxation coupled with increasing inflation rates, without commensurate remuneration, have not helped the situation in Barbados.
The fact is, many educators and stakeholders are becoming increasingly critical of the education system. The curricula from schools to the tertiary institutions are scrutinized, and reforms are seriously and urgently needed. No child or individual should be left behind. Education has always been valued by individuals and society as‘a consumption good’ and as a means‘to preserve and transfer cultural values to subsequent generations’; surely the current blotch must be remedied. Across Barbados, individuals with higher levels of education appear to gain more knowledge and skills on the job than those with lower levels of education; many of them transferred what they learned across occupations and sectors.
Yet, the DLP, faced with difficulty, pulled the education rug from beneath the feet of Barbadians. A fair question that must be asked is: on what grounds can the Freundel Stuart-led DLP realistically plead for a new mandate to govern? DLP Cabinet Ministers and parliamentarians have kicked the proverbial ladder away; they have single-handedly dismantled education as the most potent driving force for producing progressive individuals and a knowledge-oriented society in Barbados.
Change is ubiquitous and the pace has often outstripped Barbados’ capacity to have adequate and available resources to always manage the change. Nonetheless, the secret of economic growth and national development is centred around education and knowledge facilitation. A few years ago, Dr Dan Carter iterated that:“If Barbados is ever to maintain its social and economic stability in this new world of trade liberalization and the technological revolution now sweeping the world, then it must reform its educational system,”with“the creation of a system of education and training that would facilitate a job market that will be subject to/able to accommodate constant change.”
Indeed, there must be continuous and substantial investments in Barbadians. We must learn how to contend with the forces of change, and allow the pillars of education to allow for turning positive forces to Barbados’ advantage, while blunting the negative pressures by utilizing innovation and adaptation. Clearly, ‘the future of the world is a learning future’ and because we have seen the market take pre-eminence in economic development, competitiveness – the ability to compete in markets for goods or services–will necessitate international standards of education and entrepreneurship.
It is heartening to read the Barbados Labour Party’s(BLP) Our Covenant of Hope which makes the pledged commitment on page 26 that the BLP will prioritize public investments to “empower our people through free formal and non-formal education, ready access to information and the bolstering of our national identity while protecting and nurturing the most vulnerable among us.”
In the last few days, Sir Hilary Beckles asserted that “we do not have enough citizens in the Caribbean who have professional training, skills development and higher education.” Linking this statement to the BLP’s pledge cannot mean less investment in education, but must mean more commitment on investments. Also, it means that education and training are key to moving the Barbados society towards sustainability and a definite higher plateau of national development. Public awareness must be shaped to encourage competitiveness for the individuals comprising our society.
Political parties must tell the electorate what type of mechanisms, tools, programmes, and projects they will introduce or enhance to make that valued investment on education in Barbados. This writer, for instance, concurs with Dr Dan Carter that the DLP’s loose ploy of ‘establishing sixth forms cannot be the answer to secondary pupils who are so deficient, not merely in the academics, but in their total readiness to be effective members of society’. In fact, Dr Carter argues that more fundamentally important,“is the will to find a strategy of allocating to the newer secondary schools a more equitable distribution of abilities” to deny inequalities and greatly reduce dysfunctionality within the society.
There must be honesty and commitment to giving people access to the knowledge and skills for lifelong learning to help them find new solutions to Barbados’ environmental, economic, and social issues and challenges.