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By Glyne Murray
There is a certain discernible vigour and variety to the current public debate surrounding the government’s would-be “transformation” of Barbados’ education system that is, at the same time, both reassuring and disturbing.
And while the ongoing discussion can be said to have so far generated far more heat than light, I find the heat from the public very energising and uplifting since it indicates to me that, just like they did with the government’s still unsettled and unsatisfactory account for the nationally traumatising IADB survey/test of some age-sensitive school children, the public at large still appears uncompromising over the educational and other welfare of our children.
This retained determination not to settle for anything but the very best for our children’s education is quite reassuring for it demonstrates that underneath what for some time had seemed like a generalised major decline in the public’s recognition of and appreciation for the inherent value and importance of a good education, that basic traditional national characteristic still very much exists.
But what has not been recognised by government after government over time, is the recognition that this Bajan trait and realisation that has been foundational for our overall growth and development down through the years, and has made it possible for Barbadians to excel abroad in the region and internationally, needs to be deliberately stimulated and reinforced by specific programming.
One way would be to provide specific prenatal and postnatal information to mothers and fathers about the need for early psychological and intellectual stimulation of their offspring, in the same way that is routinely done to their physical and physiological features and their evolution.
This early intellectual and sensory stimulation at home would help children with their ability to read, write and reckon (count) by the time they are ready for primary school and go a long way towards minimising what should be a national shame – annual reports and acceptance of persons emerging from the secondary school system unable to read and write their own names and addresses, far less read and write generally. In other words, being illiterate.
Wiping out illiteracy actually demands its own long overdue “war”, in much the same way we have been having against crime, especially given the well and long-established recognition of the connection between illiteracy and crime all over the world.
But the national consideration of the much celebrated “proposals” on the “reimagining” of education has failed miserably to provide much “light” to assist the public in its understanding of what has been put forward by the education ministry. This conclusion is based both on the content and form of the 32 pages on which they are printed.
My view is that the content and form have been consciously chosen by the authorities to control the narrative. Controlling the narrative is a well-known communication technique that seeks to control how and what people think of other persons and things.
By limiting the information provided to the public, the authors set out to prevent recipients from properly forming their own opinions, with the sources interpreting the “facts” for the readers. Then the organisers ensure that this minimum amount of controlled information is not made available to the reading public for prior independent study and evaluation before official presentation to the theoretically deciding public.
But persons keen on the future of education can consider themselves fortunate to get something in their actual hands, very late and limited though it was. Other preceding major public “consultations” on becoming a republic, NIS “reform” and the same process now being undertaken with the Constitution and Parliament have not been treated to even such minimal consideration and respect.
However, I think that Barbadians should feel insulted that in a field like education, in which society has traditionally taken a deep and serious interest, they should have been presented with a document of proposals that amount to virtual bullet points and the skinniest of narrative to provide background and context, but with an abundance of photographs tantamount to what we have begun to see with political manifestos in recent times.
But these deficiencies were made all the more jarring and glaring with a topic subjected to generations of studies, reports and recommendations. Furthermore, the present exercise had come after the setting up, staffing and operationalising of an Education Reform Unit, which has not laid out for public scrutiny such factors as research findings, varying expert theoretical perspectives and the intellectual grounding on which the proposals have been made, as against others. Hence, the perception of an attempt to control the narrative.
To round it off, the slick, sleek, full-colour document of proposals made me wonder about the financial cost of such, and why “proposals” – as have been stressed by officials – could not have been printed far more cheaply in black and white by the ever-reliable Government Printery.
Unless “proposals” no longer mean “suggestions”, and have already been decided upon.
Glyne Murray is an author and former diplomat, Cabinet Minister and journalist.