Free education must remain

gov’t not ready to do away with free education, says jones

The Government is not ready to tell Barbadians they have to pay for education.

In fact, Minister of Education Ronald Jones believes such a step, especially now, could set Barbados back and hinder growth in the middle class.

Jones, addressing the ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of universal free public education noted that Barbados spent about one-fifth of its annual budget on education.

“I would believe not-withstanding minor adjustments now and then that the budget over the last several years has been slightly over half a billion dollars. That is to support education from nursery right through to tertiary – at least the provision of one degree for all Barbadian citizens, for all persons who are legitimately part of the Barbadian landscape,” said the minister.

The education model in Barbados, he said came about by the silent assent of working Barbadians to allow part of their earnings to contribute to a “communal pool”, a large stake of which would go towards funding education.

This, he added was a policy, programme and process carried by successive governments from 1962 to today.

“Who dare trifles with this? I don’t. Not that I am coward, but I recognise that even though we have transformed so many aspects of our country… our infrastructure, buildings… our social infrastructure… all of this makes this country unique in so many ways. Can we therefore strive to ensure that all of these important footprints remain?

“I am harbouring tonight that they must remain. They must remain because we have not yet reached the kind of capacity where we continue to build our middle class, which still remains essentially an earning class, possibly two pay months away from the bank and other institutions asking the debt collector to try to recover the mortgage payment for the house or the car.

“Our society is still relatively fragile and we have to be careful what we do. Do we transform that fragility with greater strength; strengthening the base of our people, making them owners, greater participants in the ownership of capital in our country? So that they are better able to contribute more for those that don’t have the access that they have. These are thoughts that have to engage our attention and our focus as we move forward,” said Jone.

For this reason, he maintained that the country was not yet ready to say that the call for universal free education has been satisfied and can be done away with.

“We have not yet reached that stage. It is a project that is still unfolding and sometimes it unfolds at a more rapid pace than other times… The world is at a critical stage; uncertainty still reigns.”

He added too that there must be national discussion on the way forward for education, telling the audience: “Are we ready to say to say to persons who are still emerging from poverty that you must pay … or say those who have more than others that you must continue to make a slightly higher contribution to the satisfaction of the total society?” (LB)

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