It has become almost cliché to say that Barbados has very few resources apart from its human capital and the island’s natural beauty. Those two have been combined as critical inputs in sustaining our main economic driver – tourism.
Buttressing our human resources has been our educational system, which is largely supported by a public policy in which tax payers shoulder the cost whether the recipients are from wealthy families, or they are from dirt poor origins.
The majority of Barbadians have come from working-class backgrounds where poverty was a fact of life, a pit toilet was a shared experience, and hand-me-downs were common among siblings.
A lot of that has changed for the current generation. Though most young Barbadians in the “gen zers” population – born between 1997 and 2012 – are likely to be showering by solar water heaters, have probably never seen, far less used a pit toilet, and have been binging on smartphone technology and tablets since they were toddlers, an estimated 20 to 25 per cent of Barbadians are still in poverty.
For the working classes whose life today may not be as difficult in terms of material possessions, as generations before them, households across this island still place a high priority on educational attainment because it is still the surest path to upward mobility.
We have relied on the Ministry of Education as the guardian of our much vaunted system. We are aware of the stories about the quality of education offered in Barbados. Our graduates from the world-rated University of the West Indies have risen to the highest echelons of academia, enterprise and government, not only in Barbados but around the world.
Of course, the playing field is evolving. The rise of high-priced private primary and secondary schools has provided more options for parents seeking the most appropriate education services to suit the needs of their children. On the other hand, the changing landscape has caused some to question the effectiveness of the public system.
In all this, there is one institution on the island that has been flying under the radar and not being bestowed the accolades it justly deserves. We are referring to the Barbados Community College (BCC).
Often, assessments of educational achievements are restricted to attainments at secondary school and university, without crediting the institution at The Eyrie, in Howell’s Road, St Michael, which has been a critical feeder for the University of the West Indies (UWI) and other institutions of higher learning across the Caribbean, North America and Britain.
In 2009, when Professor Sir Hilary Beckles was Principal and Pro Vice Chancellor of UWI Cave Hill Campus, his mission was to have a university graduate in every Barbadian household.
We would argue that this goal of a graduate in every household was long achieved by the BCC with no acclaim. The BCC campus has been a fertile ground for some of our most successful academics, business executives, politicians, and professionals across several fields.
It is unfortunate that the BCC has not done more to tell its own stories of success and achievement. The college, has for too long, lived in the shadow of the Cave Hill Campus.
It was gratifying, however, over the weekend to witness the first in-person graduation ceremony of the college since 2019 where almost 820 persons graduated with various levels of certification including Bachelor’s Degrees, Associate Degrees and diplomas.
It may have gone unnoticed, but the BCC has been delivering bachelor’s degrees in areas such as nursing, journalism and media, music and fine arts. It produces most of the island’s pharmacists and its tourism and hospitality graduates are highly sought after, allowing the country’s most important sector to be constantly supported by a cadre of trained personnel with the knowledge base and skills to keep the industry competitive.
Away from the controversy that has dogged her in recent weeks, Minister of Education Kay McConney, who was featured speaker at the BCC graduation, highlighted the instrumental role the institution has played, calling the college a “dynamic and progressive institution” that was “future proofing” its curriculum.
As we shower praises on the BCC, we must never forget the role of founders such as former Minister of Education and Prime Minister Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford for their foresight in the establishment of BCC. Sir Lloyd went on to serve as a lecturer at the institution. The contribution of stalwarts like former principal Norma Holder should also be heralded.
To the past and current administration and staff of the BCC, we say job well done.