Walter, who is responsible you think in the society for building the framework to sustain employment? […]BU has always held the view that Barbados is a public led economy/society. On this premise therefore if government – by policy initiative – wants to move in a different direction one would imagine a sensible approach would be one of collaboration and preparation.
David King, Blogmaster of Barbados Underground
In 2002, I was part of a group of actuaries in Atlanta, Georgia listening to a speech being delivered by Ms. Anna Rappaport, a former President of the Society of Actuaries. At the end of the speech, I rose and asked Ms. Rappaport a question.
“Which country are you from?” she asked, recognizing that I was speaking with a non-American accent. “Barbados” I replied.
“You know”, she continued, “I am amazed at how such a small country could produce such a relatively large amount of young, bright, trainable people! It is truly a remarkable achievement!”
That incident alone was enough to convince me that the Barbados brand has achieved international status and acknowledgement.
Undoubtedly, there are many other Barbadians, working in various fields of human endeavour, in many countries across the globe, who have been filled with pride as they listened to similar complimentary remarks being heaped upon their small, but much beloved Barbados. Achieving international brand name status in the areas of training, education, and professionalism, made possible by the focus and dedication of generations of hardworking Barbadians that came before us, is a feat that we must now seek to leverage.
As a people, Barbadians possess enough talent, ability, ingenuity, resourcefulness, drive, and ambition to move their country forward for their and their children’s benefit. By Barbadians, I mean all Barbadians living “on the rock”, and in the diasporic areas of Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and North America. Collaboration and co-operation among all Barbadians are extremely crucial elements in our drive towards maximization of our available resources. This definition of “Barbadian” is simple and innocent sounding on the surface, but when properly understood and applied, it can become a potent asset in our quest to find economic growth. For example, we have a massive food import bill at the moment. There are Barbadians living all over the world, who use their foreign currency to purchase goods and consumer items for Barbadians living in Barbados. This activity should be encouraged since it represents a situation in which foreign goods are flowing into Barbados, for Barbadians, without a commensurate drain on our foreign exchange. As long as barrels contain no drugs, weapons, and explosive materials, they should be moved swiftly through our ports, tax-free, into Barbadian households. The more, the merrier. Barbadians feeding and helping Barbadians at cheaper prices.
Developed countries constantly advertise shortages that exist in their professional, technical, and religious labour markets. The governments of these countries use favourable immigration policies and provide millions of job visas yearly in order to gain global access to scarce human talent. A new approach, in the areas of government and politics, must now emerge to find effective ways to carve out a niche market for Barbados in the provision of high level global human resources.
Additionally, the populations of first world countries now view the Caribbean as an exotic, idyllic region capable of titillating and satisfying their taste buds in the areas of sport, art, music, and international entertainment. These areas provide unlimited opportunities and earning potential for the successful Barbadian company and individual. In the international entertainment industry, our very own Rihanna is an excellent example. We, as Barbadians, can offer these populations more.
At present, our educational system is geared towards identifying those students who are good in English and Maths at age 11 and shepherding them towards the “older grammar” schools. The traditional media houses are routinely used to highlight the successes and dreams of a dozen or two of the top performers who are supposed to be headed for great things.
Five years later, many of those who did not gain entry into the “older grammar” schools, that is, those who attended the “Comprehensive” or “Newer Secondary Schools” are jettisoned from the secondary educational system. Perceived as “failures”, these 16 year-olds yearly add to a pool of unskilled, and unemployed Barbadians. This forever expanding pool of unemployed youths provides opportunities that are feasted upon by politicians, businesses, drug pushers, gun smugglers, sex abusers, rogues, thieves, and vagabonds. It is also developing into a dangerous social powder keg.
Some of these 16 year-olds, technically gifted from birth, relish the idea of getting an opportunity to study at the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, but their dreams are shattered as “underperformers” and “failures” from the “older grammar” schools eat into some of the limited spaces available at the institution.
Seven years later, out of an original cohort of almost 4,000 students, about a dozen or two top performers (Barbados Scholars and Exhibitionists) are highlighted and praised by the traditional media, and then encouraged by the politicians and policymakers to go away and stay away. They do exactly that.
Certainly, our educational system is flawed, and needs to undergo some adjustments. Be that as it may, all of these adjustments would now have to be implemented against the background of a country severely crippled by massive debt, a government that is broke, an agriculturally demoralized nation resigning itself to a high food import bill which gnaws at scarce foreign exchange, and a rising tide of angry Barbadians now beginning to recognize the damage that has been done by excessive political greed and corruption.
As a starting point in the discussion related to laying down an educational framework to serve the employment interests of Barbados in the 21st century, I now take this opportunity to offer some recommendations:
· The 11+ exams in Maths and English should continue as basic exams for all students, but the format and scope of the testing should be broadened to include computer fundamentals, French, Spanish, Chinese, art, music, performing arts, and sports.
· Scores achieved in end-of-year exams in class at ages 9 and 10 should form part of the overall 11+ score.
· Tapes and videos should be used to assist with the teaching of conversational French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
· Student exchange visits to and from Cuba should be pursued. We should be looking to produce bi-lingual Barbadians by 2035
· Performances in Inter-Primary school competitions should be used as 11+ scores in sports and athletics.
· Emphasis should be placed on building confidence and beginning to create a sense of national self-worth at age 11.
Secondary Education (Boys and Girls separated to correct the Biller Miller catastrophic blunder)
· Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJPP) should be accepting 11+ students, based heavily on scores in computer fundamentals, and maths.
· CXC exams mandatory for all students.
· SAT exams mandatory for all students.
· Exams needed to qualify students for entry into international technical colleges and universities should be mandatory at SJPP.
· Focus should be on getting as many students as possible on to the tertiary level of education.
· Excellent scores in SAT may create scholarship opportunities at universities and colleges in the USA and elsewhere
· Excellent performances in sports, art, and music may create scholarship opportunities at universities and colleges in the USA and elsewhere
· Non-scholarship students will seek entry into the University of the West Indies and their education will be paid for by the Government of Barbados.
· Emphasis on math, science, engineering, technology, business, and sports
· Focus should be on producing workers, athletes, and professional sportspersons for the global market.
How do we find work for our graduates?
Eleven short years after Christopher Columbus set sail for the New World, the Spaniards established at Seville in 1503, a Casa de Contratacion, which, in their language meant a House of Trade. In 2015, we must now apply the concept of a House of Trade to the purpose and function of our embassies. No longer should our ambassadors and senior members of their staff be allowed or encouraged to believe that their purpose in life is to rub shoulders with international diplomats as a means of satisfying their individual thirst for social status and recognition.
Barbadian embassies must now be transformed into national institutions which are constantly on the lookout for educational, athletic, trading, investment, and employment opportunities that can be grasped by Barbadians. For example, the Barbadian embassy in the USA should be spending a lot of its time encouraging and incentivizing Sagicor (a Barbadian-connected life insurance company operating in the USA) to access the talent of Barbadian actuaries, accountants, investment managers, risk managers and other support staff living in the USA and Canada. It should also be analyzing the USA demand for doctors, priests, certified public accountants, physiotherapists, and other professionals, and advising young Barbadians who to contact, what processes to initiate, and how to position themselves to compete for these jobs. Similar efforts should be made by our embassies or “High Commissions” in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, and Europe.
Finally, the government of Barbados has suddenly relinquished its responsibility to fund the tertiary education of Barbadians. To ease the heavy financial burden that has been placed upon government’s shoulders, some ingredients of a self-financing mechanism must be introduced into our educational system. Those students who receive governmental assistance, in order to move from secondary to tertiary education, will be required to sign a contract with the Government of Barbados before they begin university studies. These students will be tracked and required to pay a percentage of their earnings for the first 5 years of their working life after graduation, regardless of whatever country they are working in. These special payments will be earmarked for spending on tertiary education.
It would be in the interest of everyone concerned to ensure that young Barbadians gain access to a tertiary education, compete for global sustainable jobs after graduating from university, and compulsorily pay back into the system so that the next group of Barbadians following them can grasp opportunities and repeat the process.