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What’s education?

mind of a bajan


Over the past weeks, several people were musing about the introduction of fees at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Strangely enough, most Barbadians involved in the discussions were not very concerned about the actual fee, their concerns were about the implementation process and the sudden hardship placed on continuing students.

Although this was interesting, what I found most surprising was the statement about the university’s existing relevance as suggested by a political pundit, given that this individual must have benefited from this institution at some time. One can only conclude from the offhand comments that there is a lack of empathy and concern for persons, especially those who are trying to attain higher education.

I may be wrong, but given that all the decision makers in our midst have been exposed to higher education, one would think that they would have researched other models before implementing this one. I am sure that we can all agree that education is expensive and the existing model has caused a strain on the economy of the country, but it is not the only pressure on the public purse. Free bus fares and summer camps are also leaving their mark.

So what did other countries like the United States do when affected by the economic crisis? For instance, in the midst of the global economic recession during 2008-2010 (daily reports suggested that the American economy was in danger of collapse and accounts were given of people living in their vehicles because they had lost their homes). However, no one in the United States cabinet proposed that perhaps their universities (Harvard, Stanford, Pennsylvania State, Howard, City College, and so on) had lost their relevance, given that there was a growing number of online universities competing with them.

To me, it appears as if our university students/citizens of Barbados are being asked to exchange the opportunity for a university level education for free bus fares, and summer camps and yet another welfare department. Prima facie, one would have thought that this decision underpinned a deep abiding respect for education (primary through tertiary). However, given the recent abrupt pronouncement by educated individuals about university fees, we are left to ponder if our education has caused us to lose our human touch.

This week, we examine the concept of education. For some time now, I have noticed that our so called high literacy levels have been questionable, and whenever I have this discussion with teachers the blame game begins. The tertiary level blames the high schools, the high schools blame the primary and the primary blame the home (the mothers), and the mothers/parents blame  the teachers.

So it appears as if nobody wants to take responsibility for our falling educational standards and what appears to be a blatant disregard for excellence and high levels of critical thinking. To make matters worse, we are hearing that our current university structure may not be relevant, given that there are so many alternatives through which one can earn higher education.

So the question is: what is the importance of education? The response came to me faster than I first thought. On reading the Barbados TODAY online newspaper I came across this definition of education.

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” (Robert Frost, April 14, 2014. Page 34.)

This would explain why our educated people usually keep quiet about our current social problems and do not get openly outraged like some people in other places. However, this explanation was not enough to placate my interest. Therefore I decided to utilize my dear friend

On the Stanford University’s site I found a definition of education in an article written by Martin Luther King which he wrote in the college newspaper there in 1947. In this article it appears as if Dr King was also struggling with the definition of education, given the behaviour of some political pundits of the time, which I believe is applicable to us at this juncture.

According to King, education served both utilitarian and moral functioning. He also asserted that having reasoning abilities alone was not enough but it also involves moral development and the construction of good character. In addition, these abilities were critical to intellectual development which could only be realized through education.

Moreover, he suggested that if education did not enable one to achieve these skills, then one should question the purpose of education. King (1947) also proposed that educated people of his day (much like ours today) appeared to have a misconception that education provided them with the means to exploit others and trample the masses. Around that time, they appeared to be others who thought that education was a form of nobility where I suppose they sat amongst themselves and “boasted” about their achievements and not consider their achievements as a means to an end.

To this end, Dr King made four suggestions about the end result of having a good education, which I condensed in the following points.

Education should enable the recipient to become efficient in life as he/she achieves their goals.

Education must train people to be quick, resolute and effective thinkers, and not be guided by half-truths, prejudices and propaganda.

Education should provide people with the tools to think logically and scientifically.

Education should arm us with skills to be objective and unbiased in a manner that should enable us to weigh evidence and uncover the truth from false, determine what is real from unreal and decipher facts from fiction.

Finally, Dr King summed it up by indicating that education teaches us to think critically and intensely but in a manner that allows us to be efficient, otherwise we could be “a menace to society”. What was most interesting about this article was the section where Dr King mentioned that the most dangerous criminals may be gifted with reason but they are without high moral standards.

Therefore having an education means that one must have intelligence; but that alone does not signify that one is educated. One must therefore have the added quality of good character while demonstrating that one has knowledge and social experience.

On another site, I noted a speech given by President Theodore Roosevelt who was also examining the meaning of education. In his speech, he exposed the flaws in the United States education system and proffered that teachers had focused too much on past events and did not impress on students their obligation to be good citizens.

He went on to suggest that education trains individuals to be good citizens who were not laid back but understood what it meant to be of service to their country. This is portrayed when they take a keen interest in good governance and prevent politicians from doing as they please, as doing so will make us all pay for it in the end.

Given these definitions, one can only wonder if our education has left out some important concepts –– for instance, displaying human kindness instead of relentlessly being self-serving. I am also amazed at how silent some prominent persons are on the issues concerning the current social and economic situation, or maybe they are busy holding on to their temper because they are educated.

I believe, like Martin Luther King and President Roosevelt, that we must recognize that education at the university is not only relevant but it means being able to demonstrate good citizenship, good character, logical and critical thinking and, above all, having enough understanding of others’ social experiences to show empathy instead of arrogance, or, like Roosevelt said, we will all surely pay in the end.


(Daren Greaves is a psychology and management consultant.


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