Spotlight on schools

panel discussion on education highlighted several different issues

Recently, the funding of the UWI and Government’s indebtedness to the institution received much attention in the media. This has prompted me to share a few details on the recent panel discussion on education that formed part of the recent Combermere Global Reunion.

Three broad themes — religion in schools, the school and the 21st century and the role of the alumni — were explored by a four-member panel comprised of Reverend Bonner, Dr. Calvin Holder, Jerry Hall and Vere Parris, Principal of Combermere.

In the four-hour discussion, the contrast between approaches to both funding and discussion perspectives of education in Barbados, England and the United States were apparent.

Holder, for example, shared a US wealth index and then tied it to a low high school graduation rate for blacks, and social mobility.

He said: “In the USA the annual wealth index for Blacks is about $4,500; the index for whites is $110,000 in an economy that generates $300 billion a year — about 25 times as much. Fifty five per cent of the males do not graduate. Without a Bachelor’s degree they are superfluous to the economy.”

He clearly stated that while he could not speak for Barbados, he was sure that certain unidentified relationships exist and in both cases one needed to get serious.

Parris gave specific examples of current alumni contributions to the ongoing welfare of the school and indicated that a very healthy relationship existed with some alumni. He went further and used examples from the school’s development plan to suggest that they were also other opportunities in building and library programmes.

“We cannot simply provide students with a programme that leads to work in somebody’s office. We need to focus on post education that contains an international component. Our students are making connections with cultural industries; entrepreneurship thought; green economy and recycling programmes,” he said.

Historian Dr Calvin Holder spoke to how one of his alma maters, Harvard, for example, raises funds. Indeed, Holder posited that many universities have large endowment programmes.

“Harvard is a rich institution worth some $23 billion. Where did they get the money from? They have been tracking me since 1971. Every month I still receive mail. I receive phone calls. Educational institutions should have a data bank that would allow them to build relationships with alumni. Egos should be massaged and smoothed. This will make a critical difference in the way the institutions functions,” Holder advised.

Over the years they have been several alumni organisations in New York with varying degree of activities and success. Recently, the Cooperative High School and Ellerslie Secondary school Alumni Associations have come on the scene and are now in the formative stage.

Annual lecture

Later this month Foundation Alumni will sponsor their annual lecture and Ellerslie School will have a bus ride. And while the recent week of activities by the Combermere school is by all comparison an outlier, none of the activities of organisations match the degree to which some alumni contribute to Universities and schools in the US as told by Holder.

Truth be told, the models used for philanthropy in Barbados and the US are different. America has three clearly defined sectors — the private sector, government and the not-for-profit sector.

Both the panel and contributions from floor indicated that the needs of students today are varied, spanning areas of technology, economic and social and the consequently, the school or university will need to change, “if we are to meet the challenges of the 21st century”.

Clearly, when the current circumstances are applied to the goals of institutions, when the value and cost of education is acknowledged, one may find that the traditional approach to development and funding may be challenged. This opens the door for a significant role for alumni. It also raises the old adage of cutting a suit to match the cloth, which may be needed to be recycled.

As the President of the Senate, Kerry-Ann Ifill, who attended the discussion, noted, we don’t live in a vacuum. For UWI, Cave Hill, now 42 years old, and which has grown considerably, this should mean taking the lead in the rationalisation of the cost effectiveness of teaching programmes at various levels without compromising quality.

In the US where education is also a business opportunity, the completion of remedial work at the university level, is a money making affair. In Barbados it should be a red flag.


1536 – audience

1534 – panel – Dr C Holder – center

1556 – Dr parris

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