Blurred line between education and ignorance

German-born British statistician Sir Claus Moser, at a British association meeting more than two decades ago, said that education cost money, and so too did ignorance.

It is a truism with which one can find little fault. But in societies bordering on being welfare states, and others where overdependence on government is a way of life, even the wealthy are comfortable with deliberate illusions of being of straw while holding their cap in hand for social services.

Our political leaders of the 1950s and 1960s refashioned access to education as a means of upward mobility. But they would scarcely have contemplated that 50 or 60 years later, in a changed local landscape, that generations of Barbadians who moved up the social ladder as a consequence of free education would expect such “freeness” to extend into perpetuity. That is expensive ignorance.

In the grand scheme of major world economies, Barbados’ is a small one. It will always be a small economy and this society will never thrive on welfarism. Governments of small economies such as Barbados, cognisant of the benefits of a sound and productive education system, must be able to find a balance between providing educational opportunities for the poor and ensuring that the wealthy and those with the means, contribute significantly to their own education and that of their offspring. It is the way of the world.

We do not envisage institutions such as the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies to be ever able to generate the levels of revenue to be self-sufficient. That would be an ideal situation, but it is also a pipe dream. However, what we do appreciate is that greater levels of revenue generated by these institutions would result in a decrease of the financial burden to Government –– and by extension, taxpayers.

Unfortunately, Government faces a major challenge in changing the mindset of many Barbadians as it relates to the provision of education. The task is made even more difficult by self-serving “bleeding hearts” who seemingly peruse every nook and cranny of the island seeking a cause célèbre to fight. It has been somewhat amusing that the call for students at the University of the West Indies to contribute to their own education has been met with accusations such as “kicking down the social ladder”, “destroying the Barrow legacy”, and other instances of eloquent gobbledygook.

Perhaps it is such a mentality or the culture developed in Barbados that education is a free-for-all, that Government’s Student Revolving Loan Scheme is owed more than $24 million by dishonest Barbadians who borrowed taxpayers’ money to advance themselves and their children and have refused to pay it back. In many instances, this debt goes back more than a decade and is owed by latter-day professionals.

It is interesting that those Barbadians who benefited from the Student Revolving Loan Scheme and have subsequently undermined its viability and future sustainability by their dishonesty, are never accused by social commentators of “kicking down the social ladder” or “destroying the Barrow legacy”. But a student debt of $24 million, that flows more than it ebbs, eventually impacts negatively on those other students looking forlornly up the social ladder.

The cultural malaise occasioned by the idea that Barbadians are owed a free education from the cradle and possibly to the grave not only manifests itself in a reluctance of students to service their debt, but also in the use of “free” books and other aids. A check with the Ministry of Education can confirm that significant sums are spent annually on replacement books  in situations where their shelf life is shortened by misuse, abuse, and theft, especially at the tertiary level.

Free education has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest medium for social change in Barbados. But 2014 Barbados is not the same as 1960 Barbados. The social dynamics in the country have changed. More Barbadians are availing themselves of tertiary education than 40 or 50 years ago, and costs of providing a more diversified education than five decades ago have also risen astronomically. These are indisputable facts which are usually met with emotional counter arguments as to why the status quo should remain as it was generations ago.

Truth be told, those who have benefited from the system and would now seek to convince themselves and others that a small Barbadian economy can sustain free education ad infinitum are prime examples, in the words of the British knight, of just how costly ignorance can be.


4 Responses to Blurred line between education and ignorance

  1. Angela Maria
    Angela Maria August 20, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    The Barbados government allowed the money owed to the Student Revolving Scheme to reach that high. Is there no one with a modicum of common sense responsible for policing the fund? No one who, realising that the money wasn’t being repaid, put more effective measures in place to regain the monies owed? After all, stealing from the government is a crime. Is there no one at the Ministry of Education who can come up with a more effective way of making sure these dishonest people do not walk away from a debt owed. Obviously not. Instead we have a nation of people, including its government prone to closing the gate after the horses have fled. These people signed contracts that they have breached, issue some sort of warrant and bring their thieving asses before the courts. Find out which of them who owe money work in government jobs and start docking their pay. Black list them, so that the ones who owe money and run overseas are denied entry into the island, or detained until a contract to pay is worked out. Do something except grouse and complain to the media. Look how Barrack get fed up and employed drastic measures to reclaim what is his. Take a page from his book….DO something other than just complaining.

  2. Angela Maria
    Angela Maria August 21, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Having said that, I will always be of the opinion that this government’s decision to suddenly make Barbadians pay for tertiary educations was just that…too sudden. It should have been phased out, making it an easier burden for students to bear. Also, yah see all ah wanna grown ass bajans who done benefit from the free education who are now saying Barbadians are ignorant to be upset by the government’s decision? If this has happened when YOU were about to go into university, YOU would be up in arms, too. It is very easy to be smug and sanctimonious about a decision that does not affect YOU. Some of wanna use the free education as a leg up out the gutter, and seem to have forgotten how hard poor people have it now that you are no longer poor. Anyway…the Lord aint blind, what goes up, can come down….

  3. Eric Johnson August 22, 2014 at 4:44 am

    There appears to be some merit in the editorial. Firstly, however let us remind the writer that the textbooks at the primary and tertiary level have to be purchased. Secondly, having studied at the graduate level in the USA. I can confirm that As a result of the United Negro College Fund and State Grants thousands of African Americans receive FREE tertiary education. The cost of tertiary education is outrageous in the W.I. since wages of the majority are low. How many of the thousands who graduate annually from secondary and tertiary institutions in Barbados find jobs? We should be aware that the State has suspended employment and altogether over 20000 have lost their jobs in the last 6 to 7 years. No wonder so much is owed to educational bodies as well as …

  4. Ayo August 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    PS: I think the quote you were looking for is, “If you think Education is expensive, you should try ignorance” .


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