Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, Ronald Jones (FP)

Educators at the 3rd International Conference on Higher Education, currently on at the Hilton Barbados, have been called upon to examine the role of education and training in arriving at solutions to problems confronting this society.

This challenge was thrown out yesterday as Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, Ronald Jones, addressed the start of the conference at Needham’s Point, St. Michael.?? Minister Jones said: "Conferences such as this one are of great importance and benefit to small developing countries as we try to push ahead and make further strides in our various social, educational, cultural and economic endeavours while grappling with the ever expanding social and economic challenges.??

"We are faced with [the] increasing cost of tertiary education, increases in lifestyle diseases and many unsavoury external cultural influences. However, our attempts to face these challenges are stymied by the very tough global economic situation, which is having a deleterious effect on our local economy."??

Expressing confidence that educators would meet the challenge, Mr. Jones said: "When I reflect on the significant burdens being caused by the current global uncertainties and the ever present recessionary economic trends, I am convinced that thinkers such as yourselves must deploy every talent, every skill and every knowledge to assist those in governance, business, trade and other economic and social actions to change the current circumstances or paradigm. I do not believe it is beyond our capacity."

The Education Minister pointed out that what the island seemed to be facing was a crisis of confidence, and severe convulsions of fear and stagnation of action and noted that what was necessary was "a call to deliberate action; an opportunity for men to quell their various fears and get to work in resolving this crisis".

Stating that man, over time, had resolved many of the troubling issues of his day he asked: "What makes the current difficulties so entrenched? Is it the combative, yet hypocritical platitudes of those in governance to those who are governed? Is it the lack of voice of the majority populations of the world? Is it the ???I know, you do not know attitude’, which sometimes pervades our political and economic discourse? Is it the capitalist economic model being rebalanced?"

He maintained that there were so many questions to ask but few answers, and told educators their presence at the conference provided an opportunity for the exploration of solutions and collaboration on research into some of these issues, particularly those affecting education and training.

"…I propose that you address the role of education and training in contributing to viable solutions to the many problems that confront us. The easy answer is not going to be necessarily the best answer or solution. In our context we can place greater financial burdens on students, particularly on those at the tertiary level, [and] force them into a situation not to enjoy what so many of the previous generations enjoyed.

"I look at the increase in costs in such places as Britain and the tremendous debt burden on students in the United States and even our current discourse here in Barbados as to the capacity of government to continue to support tuition free tertiary education. I know there are no easy answers, but answers must be found," Mr. Jones stressed.

Contending that the island could not allow the current and future generations of its citizens to be denied access to quality tertiary education and training, he said:?? "As we all know there is a nexus between education and training and social development and our institutions must not only be concerned with producing graduates for the workforce but graduates who are driven to seek practical solutions to the problems that are affecting their society.

"Our various institutions must move quickly to develop a culture of practical research that will lead to the creation of persons who will, among other things investigate green energy alternatives, alternative medicines from our plants and so on.?? [We must also] engage in the development and sale of our cultural and knowledge-based products and find a way to feed our people, since I do not believe that the days of imported cheap food will ever come back. Those who continue to perpetuate that idea are only fooling the people, Mr. Jones said.

The Minister, himself a former teacher, noted that after 50 years of universal tuition free education it was fitting that the conference, which runs until October 24, was being used to address the issue of collective strengths. He concluded: "It is my belief that a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach will underpin the next wave of national development thrust. We are all stronger as collective collaborators and furthermore, I am of the view that education practitioners must view themselves as pivotal to fostering national development in these tough economic times."


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