Has the Barbadian educational system fallen asleep? Our sleeping giant, one of the most well-endowed in the region, is yet to fully maximize its greatest potential. What’s most important is how well it is preparing students for a fast-paced, globally competitive and highly automated future. Courses in robotics and coding are a good start, but what else?
Free education is not so free
First, we need to be honest about the type of learning happening in our classrooms, and ask how many are being left behind? If our education is delivering on its investment, then why are so many parents seeking every lesson imaginable outside of the secondary school classroom? It’s a trend that surely needs some attention. Free secondary education was meant to be the great equalizer. These days, it is evidently less equal than ever, especially when those with the best access to resources or lessons are the winners.
Positioning digital natives
There is growing evidence to support increasing the use of technology in schools. Technology has now become the new equalizer, especially among Generation Z who are digital natives. We should be capitalizing more on this in our classrooms. In Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age, we are led to believe that technology will impact on future employment and both the prosperity and well-being of our children. Barbados can take its seat at the table or be complicit in its own demise. We either position our children or encourage more social unrest and fallout by chronically disadvantaging our youth, who have been left out of the game for too long.
Lessons from China
Take the case of China whose driven and extremely competitive people provide an example of a country that seeks to secure wealth for generations to come. They took telecommunications from a state of only manufacturing the metalwork that housed electronics, to training individuals to design the hardware, write the software and build the entire product as well as develop the next generation of products. With a strong and aggressive plan to be leaders and educate its citizens to perform in high-tech positions, Huawei now leads in telecommunications. Theirs is an example of determination, but more importantly, in the strategic technological education and training of its people.
Employees of the future need to keep pace with automation, global competition and changes to how work will be structured. This means that there will be less steady work and more project-based work. The future will mean working many multiple jobs during one’s lifetime and sometimes at the same time. Students must be better at understanding and boldly planning their academic future. They must be flexible knowing that the education and jobs that they are currently preparing for might not even exist in the near future.
Making the grade or not
One truth that is not changing – technology is here to stay and cannot be halted. Some tough questions need to be asked of our current educational system. Are we content with having our children languish? Are we preparing our students to face a future where robots and Artificial Intelligence will make it difficult to find work in some areas? Are we getting through with the idea of lifelong learning and the need to keep re-skilling and upskilling? Barbadian youth are not only competing within the region but also the world, and with automation. The question is whether our education can make the grade.
Artificial Intelligence vs human
In a future based on job uncertainty, Barbadian policymakers are putting our nation at great risk without a comprehensive plan to integrate more socio-emotional instruction and technology in schools. Jobs that were once thought of as safe are now being automated at breakneck speed. The Harvard Business Review wrote that to stay relevant, one has to enhance skills focusing on understanding, motivating and interacting with human beings, in other words, skills that are especially challenging for artificial intelligence to replicate. Students need to understand that they will always have to pursue supplemental training, continually prove themselves on the job, seek internships and take open online courses such as MOOCs. They can not only rely on the skills gained in traditional education but also online.
(Cherith Pedersen is a clinical mental health counsellor and expressive arts therapist)