The only sensible way forward for Barbados economically is for us – the citizens of Barbados – to assume the primary responsibility for establishing and running productive enterprises in our country and basing such enterprises squarely on the educational and human development that we have attained as a national population.
In other words, we need to jettison the backward and self-defeating idea that we must wait for so-called “foreign investors” to come to our rescue, or that we should opt for a model of so-called “development” that is based on increasing the number of Barbadians employed in unskilled, low technology, dead-end jobs!
But if we are to successfully embark upon such an economic mission, we must first provide our nation with a revamped “Education System” that is designed to reproduce, preserve and root us in our distinctive Bajan/Caribbean national culture, AND to foster a national propensity for self-confidence, initiative, high academic and technical achievement, social solidarity, cooperative work, independent thought, and self-reliance.
It is against this background, therefore, that I would like to propose the following reforms to our system of education:-
Highest international standards
We must set out to achieve the highest international standards in every single Barbadian school!
Thus, we must scrap the current existing practice of dumping all the low academic achievers in five or six secondary schools at the bottom of the proverbial ladder, while at the same time placing all the high academic achievers in the three or four secondary schools at the top of the ladder.
This educational structure is failing far too many of our students and has led to a situation in which some 60 per cent of our children graduate from secondary school without a single academic certificate to their name, and without having acquired any marketable technical or artistic skills.
My advice to our Government is that they should sit down with our educators and their professional organizations and work out a more just, sensible and educationally constructive system!
Furthermore, we must design a new educational system in which weaker students who need greater pedagogical assistance get it, in the form of smaller classes, more individual attention, and access to remedial education, teachers and programmes. In particular, the resources and expertise available to primary schools should be considerably enhanced in order to enable them to pay special attention to the needs of slow learners and children with identifiable learning disabilities.
Education for doing and self-reliance
I am also proposing that we consciously set out to dismantle the false distinction between so-called “mental labour” (academic education) and “manual labour” (technical or vocational education) by exposing all students in our secondary schools to some basic instruction in such technical skills as carpentry, agronomy, electrical wiring, mechanics, plumbing, and masonry.
Indeed, we should aim to create a Barbadian population that possesses enough “technical literacy” to, for example, permit our families to be able to construct and maintain their own homes (if they so desire), and to engage in family or communal food production.
In addition, we should significantly upgrade and expand the National Training Board’s Skills Training Programme, and remove the age restriction on entry to the programme.
Furthermore, we should also graft on to our national system of secondary education a new “Apprenticeship-based” component of the system! In other words, let us create a national programme that gives our secondary school students – at the age of 15 years or thereabouts – the option of transitioning into an Apprenticeship scheme or programme.
I am also of the view that our Government should provide “start-up kits” for any person who graduates from the Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute of Technology, the Skills Training Programme, or from any other approved programme of technical and vocational training and is desirous of working in the area in which he or she has been trained.
National identity formation
The education that we impart to our young people should also be designed to “root” them in a profound understanding of and appreciation for their Bajan / Caribbean / Pan-African heritage and culture! Thus, we must ensure that during the years of primary, secondary and tertiary education our youth are being systematically introduced to their own Barbadian / Caribbean / Pan-African history, music, poetry, literature, folklore, geography, dramatic plays, films, nation language, dance, visual arts, craft, and systems of philosophy and spirituality.
And, needless-to-say, this will also require the appointment of music, dance, art and drama teachers to our primary and secondary schools. And why, you may ask, do we need to make this type of investment in the Arts and Humanities? Well, the simple answer is that we would be well advised to take to heart the notion that a people possessed of a distinctive and unique “national culture” have within their grasp an “inner wealth” that has the potential to imbue them with the invaluable characteristics of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-reliance, and to equip them to engage in and practice a brand of responsible, participatory citizenship. We must therefore spare no effort to explore, preserve and transmit all important elements of our national culture!
Education as an industry
And lastly, we must set out to establish “Education” as a foreign exchange earning industry in its own right, and a new addition to the productive engines of our economy!
The current Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration has demonstrated a ready appreciation of this imperative, as evidenced by the speed and enthusiasm with which they facilitated the establishment of Ross University in our country. They have clearly grasped the crucial idea that “Education” is a sphere in which Barbados enjoys a comparative advantage, and that the provision of education services could be developed into a new foreign exchange earning industry!
Barbados, after all, already possesses a historical tradition of providing educational services for Caribbean and extra-regional students at such institutions as Codrington College, the Lodge School, Codrington High School, the Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity, the Barbados Community College, and Erdiston Teachers’ Training College among others.
In addition, our country possesses a reputation for order, stability and personal safety that adds to our attractiveness as a regional and international centre for education services.
We are also fortunate to already possess a gem of a University campus in the form of our Cave Hill Campus and its associated Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, located in close proximity to the high-end tourism attractions of the West Coast! And it must be recorded that the forward thinking leaders of the Cave Hill Campus have already commenced upon a process of marketing Cave Hill’s educational services to fee-paying international students. What I am therefore calling for is an intensification and expansion of this process, in keeping with former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s concept of establishing an expansive “University Town” of Cave Hill.
Surely, with the application of just a little imagination, we should be able to conceive of the possibility of establishing a dynamic foreign exchange earning education industry that is built around a dual strategy of attracting foreign educational establishments to our shores, while at the same time further developing and equipping our own outstanding and iconic educational institutions to not only provide Barbadians with first class educational services, but to also sell those first class services to the World.
It is time for Barbados to make a new developmental thrust- with Education leading the way !
Citizen of Barbados