The Global Education Meltdown: Solutions For Sustainability

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Acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, is pictured as he delivered the keynote address at the Second International Conference on Higher Education at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre.

??Feature Address By Hon. Freundel Stuart

Acting Prime Minister Of Barbados

To The Second International Conference On Higher Education

At The Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre

On Sunday October 17th 2010

The Global Education Meltdown: Solutions For Sustainability

SALUTATIONS

I feel particularly honoured and pleased to be able to welcome you to Barbados on behalf of its government and people.?? I welcome you too on behalf of Prime Minister, David Thompson who, in normal circumstances would have arranged and even rearranged his schedule in order to be present at a conference which touches on a subject that is dear to the hearts of all Barbadians.

Serious illness has, however, continued to deprive us of his resonance and to impose understandable restraint on his mobility.?? I am delighted though, to be able to convey his best wishes to all of you.

Thank you for choosing Barbados; and I thank the organizers for selecting this venue which bears the name of one of the most visionary Ministers of Education we have ever had in this country. Welcome to the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre.

You do not need to be reminded of the engaging variety of delights physical, cultural and culinary which Barbados always has on offer for the enjoyment of those who visit us.?? I hope that you will let slip no opportunity to savour some, at least, of these.?? To do otherwise would be to deprive yourselves of pleasures words always mock my attempts to describe.

I note with considerable interest the theme of this international conference on higher education. You rightly recognize that the recent financial meltdown that started in the USA in 2007 and rapidly spread within the highly interconnected global village, has triggered not only a serious economic recession, but also far-reaching social consequences that are altering the course of human development. This is one of those watersheds which human beings have to face from time to time. Because man is a social animal, and lives in a society and not a one-dimensional economy, what happens in our financial and economic institutions is likely to have a dramatic effect on all the other institutions of our society. So even though we are currently pre-occupied with the economic fall-out from the catastrophic financial meltdown of recent years, we must not lose sight of what it is doing and will continue to do to our education sector, and indeed to our way of life.

Barbados, as a small rapidly developing, service-oriented society, must invest heavily in its human resources. Indeed, the history of Barbados during the past 60 years has been dominated by an Education Revolution that has transformed it from being a collection of rural, plantation-dependent villages to a relatively prosperous nation state enjoying a place in UN Human Development Index at the number 30 out of 178 countries. This means that Barbados is the highest ranked developing country in the world. But because development is a process and not a destination, we must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a state of complacency.

Over the past 60 years Barbados and much of the developing world, particularly those countries that were emerging from decades of colonialism, have pursued a path to "development" that has been proving to be unsustainable. In retrospect, we can now see clearly that the colonial and post-colonial education to which we subscribed has systematically alienated us from our physical and social environment and has rather been preparing us for an existence in one or other of the great metropoles to which we have remained closely attached.

The decreasing importance of agriculture in Barbados and some other Caribbean states at a time of rising food prices, and, in the case of Barbados, an annual expenditure of more than half a billion dollars on imported food, is a measure of the alienation from the land which we have experienced over the years. We have been similarly alienated from much of what past generations would have routinely considered to be "truly West Indian".

Today, Barbados spends on average 20% of its public expenditure on education and still loses many of its brightest and most expensively educated graduates to countries in North America and Europe simply because those societies can offer them the type of employment and remuneration which is commensurate with their level of education and enlightenment. And even though the region as a whole benefits considerably from the remittances sent back by members of the Diaspora, still this kind of migration is thought by some to represent a net loss to the sending countries. The power of the pull to the more "developed" North was most recently demonstrated in a survey on youth by the CARICOM Commission ("Eye on the Future", 2010) which found that as many as 85% of the young people in CARICOM countries would migrate if given the chance.??

In Barbados the National Advisory Commission on Education has been investigating these trends and has made some important recommendations in its just completed Report. Its overriding concern is with the relevance of the education being provided in our schools, and by extension the function of higher education in our society.

It seems, however, that we have been overtaken now by events which are forcing us to rethink even our commitment to the goal of having a graduate in every household by 2015 and to facilitating this by providing free education up to the tertiary level. We received a "wake-up" call in the last quarter of 2007, the loudness of which the passage of time is finding it difficult to abate.

One of the most pertinent features of the recent global financial meltdown was the role played by technology in enabling the human family to store huge volumes of information, to retrieve and manipulate it rapidly and to disseminate it over great distances. This made it relatively easy for people in various parts of the world to invest heavily in sub-prime assets in the USA, and for major financial institutions to escape tight regulation. This same ease of access to information has created serious challenges in the classroom. For the first time in human history students in our schools have greater and sometimes easier access to current information than their teachers and are currently engaged in a virtual power struggle with their seniors.

The confluence of these streams of challenges confronting us at the same time makes the convening of this conference both important and timely.

Several critical issues, I am sure, will press their claim for your consideration. The first is the strategic importance of higher education both in stabilising society and then securing that stability. The most cursory survey of education in the English speaking Caribbean would show the role education has played in the transformation of our societies. It was not by accident that slaves in this region were denied access to formal education; nor was it by accident that after emancipation the function of education, what little was available, was to imbue ex-slaves and their descendants with a sense of their inherent weakness, incapacity and inferiority. During the long colonial era public education accentuated the acquisition of knowledge and skills the purpose of which was the subordination of colonial interests and the continued promotion and preservation of metropolitan interests. It was only after Independence that policy makers were free to determine that native scholars acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to promote the development of their respective countries. For the first time in our post-Columbian history we had before us the opportunity to craft a unique contribution to the treasury of human civilization.

If the history of this region in its various phases has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that a necessary link exists and must exist between education and some concept of development.?? The ??slave masters had a view of development, and because of the?? view formal education during the slave period was thought unnecessary.?? The post slavery colonial view of development made formal education with a metropolitan slant and emphasis the preferred type.?? For a while, since independence a clear concept of post independence development for the Caribbean seemed set to emerge.?? More recent indications seem to suggest that that flame, which seemed always to burn too unsteadily, has now flickered to extinction.?? We will not get education back on track until we determine what kind of societies we want to create in this region; until we determine towards what vision of mankind are we devoting our efforts.

We cannot credibly limit this vision to how many motor cars are parked outside West Indian homes or to how many different types of cell phones our young, middle aged and old have access.?? Our vision must make contact with the need to create societies endued with the capacity and flexibility to respond to the diverse needs and aspirations of the people of this region.

All learning, however communicated, is ultimately about the necessary interface between man and nature and between man and man.?? Man’s need to, as far as possible, tame nature and adapt it to the purpose of his continued survival is what all human history has been about.?? Since in that effort he has needed the support and cooperation of other men and women, the crafting of civilised and sophisticated human relationships has been indispensable to that process.

While I would be the last person to promote any discounting of the importance of the social sciences and the humanities, since these have so important a part to play in the developmental effort, necessity demands that the link between the Sciences, Technology and national development be communicated to our students. Interestingly, the latest statistics of faculty enrolment at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies shows that 4,758 students out of a total of 6,037 were enrolled in the Faculties of Social Sciences and Humanities, compared with 900 in Science and Technology in 2009 (Barbados Economic and Social Report, 2009).

The fundamental question we must now ask is whether our institutions of higher education are capable of producing students who know enough about their cultural, social and physical environment as would allow them to create niches in the global marketplace to propel us to recovery and sustain us thereafter. Are we equipping them to fulfil the dream of true "Independence"? Can they give meaning to the concept of a genuine "Caribbean civilization"?

Of equal concern on the issue of higher education is that of access. Present indications are that if left to chance the vision of a Barbados with a graduate in every household by 2015 will reflect a country in which the graduate in each household is female. As of now, the ratio of females to males at our major tertiary level institutions is 2:1 and growing. We must find ways to ignite the flame for the pursuit of higher learning in our young males.

Connected to the issue of access is the dominance of a style of teaching and learning that assumes that people all learn the same way. I believe Howard Gardner to be right when he says that we are endowed with at least seven different intelligences – linguistic, mathematical, musical, kinaesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal – each with its own learning style. In that case we should reflect whether we have not been doing a gross injustice to more than 70% of our children whom we classify as "not bright" at the age of 11 and then appear to be banishing them to outer darkness.

Consonant with the view of development to which I have earlier given expression, I have to agree with Sir Hilary Beckles, Principal of the U.W.I. Cave Hill Campus, during a recent address at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic in Barbados, that we need more technologists if we are to create wealth and employment in the new dispensation.?? It is going to be important, therefore, that we create institutions of higher education that enable our differently endowed youth to realise their God-given potential.?? The neighbour whose son is a gifted artist needs to be assured that we have attained to that capacity and flexibility that allows us to respond to his aspiration to develop his talent at the highest level, earn a decent living and command the respect he deserves.

I am particularly gratified that modern technology now makes it possible for all students to access knowledge and acquire skills without the need for Government to be in constant search of additional classroom space. I am satisfied that the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies offers cost-effective means of educating and training an ever increasing number of students. I am hopeful also, that competition even if from abroad will prevent local providers from acquiring a monopoly.?? This I think augurs well not only for raising standards but also for maintaining high standards.

A third concern is that of the affordability of higher education. At the end of December 2009 the overall fiscal deficit stood at $408.4 million. Barbados’s Medium Term Fiscal Strategy commits this nation to balancing its budget by 2014. The question that arises naturally for discussion is: "Can Barbados continue to provide free tertiary education – at a cost of $161.7 million this year – at a time of severe fiscal constraint, when the received wisdom is to intensify austerity measures as a means of moving towards recovery?"?? Those who preoccupy themselves solely with numbers will answer this question in the negative but I am not so disposed.

I do not think that our governments can afford to ignore the need to educate, at no cost to the beneficiary, our most precious resource, the human resource, at the highest level.?? But there is a limit to what governments, by which I mean, the taxpayers, can afford.?? Beyond the financing of higher education to the level of a first degree, it should not be necessary for governments, except in a carefully selected set of cases based on policy, to have to do more in the present circumstances.?? The provision of access to student loans on terms not too burdensome and, by means not too bureaucratic, should allow those who aspire to post graduate studies to realise their aspirations.

In any event, we have to ask ourselves how relevant is our education system if it continues to produce graduates who have to acquire more and more qualifications in order to find a job. As early as 1992, the West Indian Commission Report on Youth ("Time For Action", 1992) warned of a credentials spiral, in which young people would need more and more qualifications to get a job. We cannot afford to carry increasing numbers of unemployed graduates. Our education system will not have served us well by producing well qualified young people who are unable to assist in solving the social and economic problems that confront us.

A fourth concern is that of quality assurance in higher education. Many people have been commenting on the low standards displayed by the increasing numbers of graduates coming out of our institutions of higher learning including the University of the West Indies. The claim is that we are compromising standards in the misguided rush to produce more graduates.?? This is not a concern which I think we are entitled to ignore and every attempt must be made to inculcate a culture of excellence in education if we are to measure up to the bureau of world standards.

I consider that I would have been less than candid in this address if I did not say something about the responsibility that the highly educated have to the rest of society. Everybody loves and should be proud of the bright child. Every year the media get into a frenzy over those who score the highest marks in the 11 plus, and the CXC examinations. We almost deify our island scholars and of course reward them appropriately.?? That access to higher education confers rights on the beneficiary, no one will contest.?? But now is as good a time as any to remind that fortunate minority that they have duties as well.?? Not infrequently, one gets the impression that this fact is forgotten.

Exactly thirty years ago, in one of the most probing addresses to be heard in Barbados, the Hon. George Lamming, with haunting eloquence, reminded a University graduating class as follows:

"And here we encounter one of the sharpest contradictions of our inheritance.?? You are a minority; and you are a minority because education is scarce; and was intended to be a scarcity so that it might serve as an instrument of continuing social stratification, an index of privilege and status, a deformed habit of material self-improvement.?? This has created acute problems for all forms of leadership.?? The political leader is the educated one.?? He leads from above.?? It has also complicated the role of the intellectuals in their relation to the mass of the population.?? These are men and women who live and work in an orbit of privilege, and share in those material interests which bind them to the dominant ruling group.?? Their relation to the mass of the population is a dubious relation; it is a fragile relation; and in some circumstances it is an utterly fraudulent relation.?? This scarcity of education amidst the mass of our people has given this minority an easy access to comfort; it confers a superficial and sometimes tyrannical authority.?? It breeds a dangerous self-importance.

The power of the old white planters derived from what they owned.?? The power of these new black planters derives from what they know.?? To explode the mystique of the educated one while retaining a genuine respect for the creative power of learning: that is the task of organised labour."

Now on that subject I need muster no eloquence of my own to try to improve upon the expression of those sentiments with which I agree, entirely.

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it has taken a serious recession to force us to take a critical look at how we do business in the major institutions of our lives. Fortunately for us we have not had to deal with reckless bankers and high-flying automobile manufacturers during this recession.?? Our challenges, while less ambitious, have been no less important and in all of the circumstances we have been conducting ourselves maturely and responsibly.

A cold hard look at the weaknesses in our education system does reveal that some areas exist in which we can do better.?? More than ever before we need the imagination and intellectual input of educators at every level if we are to craft solutions that will sustain us in the second decade of the 21st Century and beyond.

I look forward, nay, we look forward, to receiving innovative solutions to the many challenges confronting us at this time. I feel sure that this gathering of gifted experts and delegates will do justice to your very stimulating theme.

I wish you a highly successful conference.

Thank you.

Author: Hon. Freundel Stuart, Acting Prime Minister
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