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Learning for the mind and living

There is still a mindset amongst us that insists Barbados’ educational system is geared towards valuing academic subjects highly and to the neglect of formal technical and vocational training, and points to two consequent “problems”.

One is the assumption that academic proficiency indicates greater proficiency and the right to heavy investment in the person’s education; the other the a disconnect between theory and practice in developing the individual and the country.

Certainly this is of recent making, and not of the 1950s and 1960s when nigh every school leaver’s goal was to exit primary school proficient in writing, reading and comprehension and grounded in mental and written arithmetic? Not in those days when it was considered a must to be able to read articulately aloud and dictation was was a stable during classes?

Not in those days when graduate school students, equally educated, chose their jobs by passion, personal preference, association or calling, their work ranging from teacher to clerk, to technician, to carpenter, to joiner to mechanic, to seaman, to farmer, to musician, to soldier . . . ?

This new mindset is that the time has come for us to encourage more of our brilliant minds towards the pursuit of technical and vocational education that “focuses on the practical application of theories, principles and knowledge”, the assumption, of course, being that these better minds are already exclusive –– or nearly so –– to the academic side.

Of course, this is a myth that needs to be debunked –– a myth founded on the projection of academia as a dream job. To tell the truth, it has been the newer university graduates have who removed academia by way of university life from the real world, placing it in an ivory tower –– where for the better part it still resides.

A University of the West Indies graduate on radio one day was heard to say again and again in a radio discussion that university graduates were “educated” and those not attending such hallowed places were “uneducated” –– this in the 21st century. Talk of educated minds so needed from “academia”!

The truth is many a great Barbadian has come out of university, despite the skewed notions some of us hold about academics, and enjoy other careers outside of the academe. On the other side there are university graduates who do no credit to their “education”. It is not unknown of varsity graduates having no clue of functional English and being incapacitated when it comes to writing a simple letter or report without misspellings and bad grammar. Being an academic in these parts may or may not be a great job.

The one thing that Barbadians have already come to know is that academia is not the only great job. And once the myth of the academic “dream job” has finally died, the culture that insists if you don’t have a Master’s or a doctorate you haven’t yet arrived might be brought to its knees.

We can really do without the overproduction of PhDs.

What we need to be careful of though is that in debunking the academia myth we do not throw away the concept of core knowledge and learning. We must all be properly trained in usage of English and constantly practise its applications. No matter what career we decide upon competent communication is key. No one needs to be able to quote Shakespeare verbatim or to recite all of George Lamming’s In The Castle Of My Skin, but a healthy appreciation and enjoyment of their work does a brain a good and helps to foster clear thinking.

It was the ability to read and write well that inspired and fired our forefathers to cut a path for us. To allow that way to further advancement to become overgrown by rhetorical gobbledegook and obfuscation does nothing for the good name of our forbears and offers no comfort for the future.

The binding between the so-called academic and the non-academic friends will always bring the enjoyment of our careers and the ability to speak as one on one (having been grounded in the English language), and being well aware of our varying strengths, specialities and expertises.

Frankly, those outside of academia do not need to be told this. They already know it. The only people this myth really hurts is academics,
which it does by luring people into academia, not preparing graduate students for actual life as a faculty member and separating academia from the “real world”.


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