“Education would be much more effective if its purpose was to ensure that by the time they leave school every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.” – William Haley, British Editor.
In Barbados, more things are changing than are staying fixed. More things are seemingly failing than obviously succeeding. It reasons therefore, that the society as a whole must admit the point at which this country sits. Barbadians must be prepared and proactive in deciding what can be done to rescue and recover the progress that Barbados had grown accustomed – at least up until a few years ago.
Necessity demands an issues-centred approach to active engagement with our society. More so, the youth and their affairs must be prioritised in any national engagement since it is this vital group that is being wrongly demonised today. The youth is the same group that will bear the brunt of policy outcomes and hopefully will lead industry in the medium and long-terms. This is precisely why Barbadians should feel compelled to trace our steps to the root problems affecting the nation, and fix the same as a matter of urgency.
Barbados’ educational system is broken. The mode of instruction inclusive of the resistance to new technologies are rendering the educational system obsolete in areas, and thus, in need of comprehensive reform. For starters, the school curricula at primary and secondary levels must be revisited. Concomitant with addressing the educational fallout must be ways that the country comes together with a demand for civic engagement within erected structures of participatory democracy. At present, Barbadian youths suffer due to widespread marginalisation and institutional discrimination.
Politicians have conveniently suggested that Barbadians complain too much, and critics of the government ought to desist so as not to send the wrong signals into the international system. Social media, so natural to youth, is a medium that antagonises the politician in government. The fact is, the current government has fascination with silence and silencing. It is for this reason, that it must be added that Barbadian youth are being short-changed due to this cryptic inclination from the political elites that is exposed in many more ways than one.
Let us be clear. We are in deep, deep trouble as a country. The educational situation is greatly complicated when fixed ideas about reality are continually substituting for discussions on dynamic issues and complex problems. Annually, there are increasing numbers of Barbados’ youth that suffer through primary and secondary education. These young people later emerge as under-certificated persons interested in earning rather than learning. A few of them are lucky to get pass the gatekeepers and Personnel departments whose claim to fame is more about sexy bottom than top heavy intelligence. With access to tertiary education being delivered a heavy blow by the current administration, it is not surprising that inequalities of all kinds are re-entering post-Independence public discourse.
Incidentally, there will always be young persons having with the right connections that are more able to fit into the unstable job market and avoid means-testing. They eventually will join a callous and competitive workforce that has fallen to be under-productive. Sadly, and without addressing all of the related issues, the country is then told by employers that there is systemic ignorance abounding in Barbados. As W.E.B. Du Bois said many decades ago, “education must not simply teach work – it must teach life.” A responsible Barbados government must not pass the buck. Human Resources gurus have advised that there is lack of critical thinking skills entering the work arena. The public is reminded that acquiring a degree is no replacement for being able to use common sense.
Added to the conundrum negatively deflating the ‘Bajan’ ego is a shortage of information, especially the kind that is driven by research and hard localised data. The public is now at a stage where there is a serious rupture between the governing and the governed. There is low-level validity in relation to people’s expectations and facts on the deliverables. Hence, misinformation, propaganda, and partisan parading have risen to the forefront of policy confusion. Obtuse political factors are calling the tunes for Barbados’ splintered polity, and the apathy has further developed among the nation’s youth.
Barbadian youth are confronted with the denial of opportunity. This dynamic has to do with the selfishness evidenced from those that emerged in higher socio-economic brackets but forgot their starting points. In that regard, the pride and industry that stood for something positive and progressive, has recently dissipated with the politicians’ cleverness in saying ‘follow me, but do not ask questions’.
Traditionally, the Barbados experience has never been to turn a blind eye to the challenges that we face as a nation. Rather, the resilience that is reflected in our self-characterisation has always been about facing the challenges of the day while overcoming without need for wanton boast. Surely, the political, civic, and business leaders in Barbados ought to be doing more to pass the baton to our youth without disqualifying incident.
One clearly recalls the current administration producing a policy document – The National Youth Policy of Barbados (NYPB). The Minister of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth used a historical benchmark inclusive of the post-1937 social reforms, adult suffrage, the provision of free education, and the graduation of the country through attaining Independence in his ‘Preface’, to state that:
“At each of these critical turning points in the recent history of Barbados, the aspirations of young people to participate more fully in the important sectors of society and to enjoy a higher standard of living featured prominently in the deliberations and added a sense of urgency to the demands for change.”
Barbadian youth are demanding urgency, change, and opportunity once again. The present administration has failed to fully embrace the youth in the policy formulation and decision-making processes for national development. In fact, the same NYPB affirms that “the apparent preoccupation with deviant youth and the mistakes that a minority of young men and women make during the transition from childhood to adulthood, has cast a long shadow over youth development.” This condition has served as an impediment to the progressiveness of national youth.
Furthermore, there are gross misunderstandings and intergenerational fallout because of the overly zealous attitude of asserting outright control, instead of promoting critical thinking among our youth and people. These problematic areas give rise to social conflict, and must be immediately addressed. Interestingly, the NYPB asserted that “Caribbean societies have succeeded in reproducing themselves with all the punitive and enslaving historical baggage for which they are renowned.” The demands of today’s crop of youth are indicative of the quest for freedom within the context of rights, duties, obligations and responsibilities.
The social democratic character of Barbados is no better put than in the Barbados Constitution. Implicitly and explicitly, there is recognition that the Barbados Constitution affirms the citizens’ “belief that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law.” To what extent is the current administration and by extension the political class in Barbados muzzling the voice of the citizen and the youth? Does the deteriorating situation in Barbados reveal the graft of political expediency and the craft of achieving acquiescence and authoritative control?
Moreover, there are many things occurring in Barbados that demand attention of the citizen and the critical thoughtfulness of our youth. Regrettably, critical thinking is hardly a formative part of primary and secondary education in Barbados. The outmoded form of knowledge transfer practiced in Barbados, is also causing hiccups at the tertiary levels. Incompetence is spilling over into the workplace and adult-oriented environments.
Ministers of government, for example, have now seeped themselves in a culture of excuses. The political class has literally and figuratively walked away from nation-building and moved to self-triumphalism. This shameful behaviour is contagious, to the extent that the country is hearing that managers in the public service have not been living up to the expectations commensurate with duties assigned. Think on these things because as John F. Kennedy once said: “Too often we … enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the UWI-Cave Hill Campus, a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: email@example.com )