A Bajan paradox
Have you ever wondered why so many talented Barbadians choose to live abroad, contributing their skills to help develop other countries when Barbados in some cases could benefit greatly from their presence and expertise?
Some will say this is nothing new, that Barbadians have always migrated in search of better, more financially rewarding opportunities, which are more readily available abroad, especially in more developed countries, than at home.
Yes, that’s true! But there’s another reason, just as significant though not as obvious, which is generally overlooked since most people prefer not to speak about it –– at least openly. It’s that there exists in Barbados an anti-intellectual climate that can frustrate any bright, ambitious person and stifle his or her development.
For a country that up to recently boasted of having a 99 per cent literacy rate and the most educated population in the English-speaking Caribbean, some persons will find this hard to believe. For me, personally, it is a baffling contradiction about Barbados that raises some searching questions.
How, for example, can a country that prides itself on a rich tradition of education be so inherently anti-intellectual at the same time? Isn’t education supposed to nurture the intellect, liberate the mind, broaden a person’s perspective, fire the imagination, promote critical thinking, and yield new ideas beneficial to the country?
The paradox can be easily explained. While emphasizing the importance of education, Barbados simultaneously seeks to control the behaviour of its citizens by placing them in a straightjacket from birth until death. This action, along with a deep-rooted sense of fear which is a defining characteristic of the Barbadian personality, restrains a person’s thoughts, words, and deeds.
As a result, personal freedom is abridged, with the tacit consent of the individual, to ensure conformity with an inherently conservative status quo. Our much revered education system plays an important role in the socialization of the Barbadian individual. This process includes fitting him or her into society’s ready-made straightjacket.
Drawing on Ralph Miliband’s thesis in his 1969 classic The State In Capitalist Society, it can be argued that the purpose of education in Barbados is not to challenge but give legitimacy to and reinforce the status quo. It is not surprising, against this backdrop, that so many of our citizens lack critical thinking skills, despite passing through the school system and earning top marks in some cases.
They can easily regurgitate what is taught in the classroom to pass examinations but are somehow unable to apply the same learning to solve real-world, day-to-day problems, which is what a meaningful education is supposed to do. The Barbadian workplace witnesses this deficiency every day.
Critical thinking is indispensable for the advancement of a society. Critical thinking yields new ideas which, throughout history, have always been the catalyst of change that has produced great leaps of progress to the benefit of humanity. A society, therefore, must nurture a conducive environment for new ideas to emerge in order to move ahead.
It is unfortunate in Barbados that when persons put forward new ideas or express an opinion outside the mainstream, they are often met with derision. Critics contemptuously ask: “Who he is?”
“Where he now come from?”
Sometimes, the pettiness takes the form of vicious, personal attacks as if the person has committed a grave sin.
“He is just another educated idiot,” you hear.
The person, rather than the idea or opinion, becomes the subject of discussion. Interestingly, the hostility is more often displayed by ordinary folk who stand to benefit most instead of the so-called “big-ups”. Little wonder public debate in this country has become so sterile compared, let’s say, with 25 years ago. Given prevailing attitudes, it is sometimes better to keep your ideas to yourself.
Barbadians who have had exposure to life abroad, especially the intellectual environment, find it difficult to readjust to the stifling Barbadian climate after their liberating experience. Still, many return home with the noble intention of making a difference, only to have their enthusiasm killed. Many then leave in frustration, vowing never to return.
I am convinced, given the quality of Barbadian talent abroad, that we possess the intellectual wherewithal to come up with effective solutions to lift Barbados out of the current quagmire thst is putting the future increasingly at risk. The question is: how can we convince the best Barbadian brains, overseas and here, to contribute in an environment known for hostility
to new ideas, resistance to change, and tearing people down?
There’s considerable official talk these days about promoting entrepreneurship, especially among young people. However, entrepreneurship will largely remain a pipedream if it is not accompanied by a simultaneous effort to promote attitudinal change that encourages outside-the-box thinking and new ideas. New ideas constitute the stuff of which entrepreneurship and also innovation are made. Both are necessary to create a new and dynamic economy relevant to the needs of a 21st century Barbados.
Rather than stay here, many of our young people are more inclined to try their luck overseas. How many adults take time to talk with our young people? If they do, they will realize that our young people are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future and will migrate once the right opportunity comes along. Many young people feel Barbados has nothing to offer them.
They have my empathy. To be honest, sometimes I myself feel that I made a mistake returning to Barbados after graduation when I could have easily stayed in Canada and most likely done much better, considering the attractive offers I turned down. But I am a child of Independence with a love for country that includes making a personal sacrifice sometimes for the greater good.
Barbados is facing a looming brain drain. It will accelerate over the coming years unless there is a fundamental change in national direction that causes a restoration of hope among our young people. With an aging population, the consequences of any large-scale migration involving our young people will be devastating. It will take years, perhaps decades, for Barbados to recover.
The writing is on the wall. It is time our policymakers wake up and smell the coffee.
(Reudon Eversley is a Canadian-trained political strategist, strategic communication specialist and journalist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)