An education system, rooted in the colonial era, is in urgent need of comprehensive reform to fit modern times and give all children a fair break regardless of their abilities, the Prime Minister suggested tonight.
While giving her maiden Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals in the House of Assembly, the Prime Minister raised the possibility that a middle school could replace the common entrance examination at age 11-plus.
She expressed concern at the fact that “too many children leave school without certification, and too many children are leaving school because they have become superannuated. We have to pause and get our education system right.”
Mottley said she was confident that despite the current health challenges of Minister of Education, Santia Bradshaw, she was willing to have an extensive conversation with the children of Barbados on what they can do to make every school an excellent one.
The Prime Minister did not go as far as indicating that the Common Entrance Examination would ultimately be abolished, given a “very conservative” population.
But she alluded to an education system that had remained largely unchanged since the creation of the Education Department and the passage of the Education Act of 1944 which introduced the most significant reforms in education since Emancipation more than a hundred years before.
She told the House: “I believe this Parliament can come and design a better system not based on colonial reform in the 1940s. While the Common Entrance does give people a fair chance at secondary education, it puts too much pressure on a lot of our children, and discards too many on the sidelines when they do not make the grade.”
She suggested: “We need to look and see whether we can set up a middle school that will take children in first and second form and help them to decide which subjects they like, such as sciences, languages, commerce, auto mechanics, carpentry and the like, so they can choose the areas in which they want to specialise.”
The Prime Minister said Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan, the MP for St. Peter, will work towards ensuring greater employment opportunities for children after leaving school.
She said: “The Member for St. Peter is now starting a First Jobs initiative, and we want to work with the unions on this, as they have a role to play in training good workers as well as teaching them about their rights. We must also get back to training artisans like joiners, plumbers, mechanics and masons as we did in the past by providing them with more opportunities for apprenticeships.”
On that score, she added: “The National Training Levy will continue to go to the National Training Board and the Barbados Vocational Training Board, and money that was devoted to the unemployment benefit fund will now be divided 50 per cent to unemployment benefit and 50 per cent to the training levy.
“We must also ensure we no longer have a situation where five, six or seven years after finishing school, there are young people who have never had a job or undergone any kind of training. So we are considering the appointment of a national training coordinator, who will be working along with the private sector and trade unions.”
But the Prime Minister stated that the process of taking Barbados to a higher level may become more difficult given the decline in the population in recent years.
She announced that Government was going to make life somewhat easier for both male and female workers with children: “We have set up a National Population Commission to address this in the long term, but for now, we must influence more women to come back into the workforce after having children, so within the next two years we want to set up day care facilities on our industrial estates and bigger office buildings.
“These centres will allow young women to stay at work and have their children looked after. We have also deemed it critical to introduce paternity leave to this country to bring a sense of balance.”
Echoing late Prime Minister David Thompson’s “Families First” initiative, she noted that strong families were the bedrock of Barbados for many years and strong family structures in which people learned to love themselves defined who they are as a people. “If we save families, families save their own, and this country has to do things differently,” she told the House.