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.