I see that the Polytechnic has changed its name to the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology. That’s all very good, but to tell the truth I don’t understand the need to change the names of schools and educational institutions, especially when we’ve become accustomed to them for years. For instance, who even knows which school is now Frederick Smith, Darryl Jordan or Graydon Sealy? In my opinion, it is an additional and unnecessary cost to change logos and names on letterheads and other identifiers of the school.
Furthermore, it is pointless to change the names of schools and leave intact an educational system that is failing many of the students. We love to claim 98 per cent literacy, but I think that we are fooling ourselves if we think that we truly have literate students or that we are succeeding in educating a vast number of them.
I’ve been doing some work with a group of girls in one of the communities, where I’ve been exposing them to the idea of entrepreneurship and helping them to come up with business ideas by watching my video series Tessa Takes the Challenge. I was appalled to discover that some of them have left school with very few, or no CXC subjects and of the ones who have some, I’m not even sure if they are at General.
It is common knowledge that many students are not allowed to sit CXC at General Level or even at the Basic level if it is believed that they will not be successful. And that is probably not an unfounded belief because our system is failing a large proportion of our students.
First of all the syllabuses are becoming longer and far more things are required of teachers and students. While I advocate for having a practical aspect to some subjects, such as Principles of Business and Art, I am at a loss as to what a Maths SBA would entail and why you would need to do one. I also do not understand the need to load the syllabuses with excessive content, making the time required to complete them impossible, especially with the challenges that teachers have in just trying to do their jobs, often in disruptive environments.
Students today are very visual and learn just about everything from YouTube, which is why I persisted until I got my video series produced. I cannot tell you the joy it gave me to watch the girls I’ve been working with engaged in watching the videos as they learned about becoming an entrepreneur and the challenges associated with it. When one of them told me that if she had had something like that at school she would have gotten a Grade I in Principles of Business, I felt like I had won the jackpot, because that is what I want; to make learning entertaining and engaging. Someone called it incidental learning. I like that!
While Barbados has become a very intellectually driven country, where we push academics and the number of CXCs a student has as the benchmark that we often use to gauge how intelligent they are, many people are gifted in other areas, but these are not celebrated or even catered to. I think the Polytechnic, Pom Marine and the Skills Training are doing a great job at equipping young people with skills that they can use to earn a living, but we really need about five more polytechnic-like schools where students who are not gifted academically can be encouraged to develop skills in agriculture, horticulture, fashion design, food processing and other non-academic pursuits.
I see that the Caribbean Examinations Council has developed a Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) which is a competency based approach to training, assessment and certification. They offer a wide variety of certifications, such as furniture making, drapery making, crop production, electrical installations, inland aquaculture operations and many others – all designed to produce students who are competent to join the workforce, or start their own businesses.
I think that is a great initiative, but part of our problem is that we are just producing students at large. As I said during a public forum last year, since we have no national vision of where we want to be in the next 40 or 50 years, we are not planning our educational system accordingly. In other words, we are not like India, which decided 40 years ago to be at the forefront of technology and structured its educational system to suit. We are simply churning out students who may or may not have academic achievements, and, even if the go the CVQ route, there is no national strategy attached to their training.
So what is the solution? I believe a first step is to enhance the methods that are currently being used to teach, so that we can engage the students more. Secondly, we should adopt more of the CVQs and offer them in a select number of schools. So that, in the absence of the national vision, we are at least producing students with skills.
I would suggest we do that at some of the newer secondary schools. That way we would have the academically focused schools for those students who will thrive there and vocational or skills based schools for those are more inclined to be trained for a skill. Having said that we ultimately need to have a national vision which will be pursued regardless of which party is in power and we need to align our educational system with the vision of where we want to be in the next 50 years.