Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Ralph Jemmott
Since 1966 Barbadian administrations of both persuasions BLP and DLP have spent appreciable sums of state revenues on public education, with appreciably good results.
Today, Barbados can boast an educational infrastructure that in quantitative terms would be the envy of many developed countries.
The current BLP government is apparently about to borrow some $40 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for education sector transformation.
The Project is entitled ‘Skills for the Future 11: Digital Transformation for Inclusive and Quality Education.’ Educational provisioning always requires change because it has invariably to adapt to changing circumstances and newly emerging socio-economic imperatives.
Education often provokes controversy because persons have different philosophies of education. Even when they pursue the same ends, they may disagree on the means to accomplish those end. Some thinkers on education endorse radical change, while others seek more gradual alterations, the so-called ‘back to basics’ school of thought.
The former run the risk of throwing out the baby with the proverbial bathwater. Too conservative thinkers run the equally dangerous risk of falling behind through failure to adjust to obvious present and future requirements. As they say: “It’s complicated”.
In fact, a lot more complicated than educational bureaucracies often think, which is why, understandably, they so often get it wrong. They may also get it wrong because they follow the dictates of politicians who have political rather than pedagogical interests.
Education is unquestionably a social good, along with Health and Public Security, it is arguably among the most important of social goods. It is also a very expensive investment and the IADB loan adds significantly to Barbados’ already heavy debt burden payable by an already overburdened citizenry.
The objectives of the policy are highly commendable. They include 1. Curriculum reform, 2. The upgrading of physical and digital infrastructure in at least ten primary schools. 3. The improvement of special needs education and the integrating of such students into the regular classroom system. 4. The enhanced professional development of teachers. 5. The creation of new digital and printed textbooks. 5. An ostensible system of continuous assessment in classes 1, 3 and 4.
Ultimately, what matters in educational change is a discernible, hopefully measurable improvement in both cognitive and affective learning outcomes. Barbados does not have a particularly good record at measuring learning outcomes across the board.
The system of continuous assessment could help in this regard. In some states in America it is possible to know what percentage of students in a particular age cohort is literate or numerate above or below a specific level.
A system of continuous assessment would afford the possibility of remedial schooling in Classes 1, 3 and 4 for those slower learners requiring compensatory schooling.
The IDB Project document indicates that $9 million is to be spent on curriculum reform, the purpose being “to improve the quality of instruction by consolidating the existing curriculum and by integrating new growth areas such as computer science, (coding and robotics), blue economy skills for green jobs and climate change and 21st century skills.”
This is more than a mouthful. Curriculum reform is clearly needed as is the upgrading of the physical and digital infrastructure in primary schools. The COVID-19 threat and the inhibitions of face to face schooling has shown the inadequacies of on-line instruction
. There can be no doubt that our children will grow up in a digital world for which they must be equipped. However a word of caution. At the primary level, one has be aware of the threat of curricular overload or clutter where too many things peripheral to primary schooling is thrust on to the syllabus. It is often asserted that children must learn a number of things and that they should learn it at the earliest age.
The essential purpose of primary schooling is to develop the numeracy and literacy skills, the socio-cultural awareness and the curiosity about learning that will be required in the secondary cycle. To link primary education to so-called “world of work” and market conditions is to voice a pedagogical heresy. Age eleven is far too early to decide a child’s employment future.
The project speaks much to the notion of inclusivity. In relation to schooling, persons mean different things when they use the term. If it means anything it should imply affording each child the opportunity to make the best of his or her skills and interests.
Barbadian culture like many in Western society tends to privilege academic schooling over other forms of formal education. We must move away from that. However, with limited financial resources, not all areas can receive equal attention. The time has come to stop paying lip service to schooling of the education of the non-bookish child from the less privileged socio-economic classes. That is the future for ‘Transformation for Inclusive and Quality Education.’
Ralph Jemmott is a retired educator and regular contributor on social issues.