UWI professor wants action to address flaws in education system

A senior official of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is calling for “some creative destruction” of Barbados’ education system.

Pro Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development at the Cave Hill Campus, Professor Andrew Downes said there were several flaws within the education system that were cause for concern, including the “straight jacket” approach to delivering information and rigid assessment methods.

He made the observation and the call for reform today as he addressed a Rotary Club of Barbados meeting onBuilding Capabilities: Education Policy and Practice in Barbados.

Downes suggested that non-governmental organizations and private sector entities “push for change in the system”.

While acknowledging that Barbados’ education policy was generally a good one and was highly regarded around the world, Downes said there were a few areas that needed tweaking to improve the system.

Professor Andrew Downes
Professor Andrew Downes

“Going forward, we need some creative destruction in the education and training system with respect to four areas,” the economist said, identifying one as reform of the school curricula to make them not only more relevant but “globally oriented”.

Downes also said more focus should be placed on methods of delivering information.

“What we have as an education system is straight jacketed, forcing you to finish things in a certain time by a certain age and some of us are not up to speed in that regard. That creates a bit of a problem for us,” he said.

“We need also to look at assessment methods. How do we assess people, especially at the transition from one level of the education system to another? We want that system to not only be continuous but also be developmental.

“Finally, we need to have a system where we develop transition arrangements as we move from one level to a next in such a way that it is flexible rather than rigid. It might be at the end of the 11-plus, but we have to find better ways,” added the former director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies.

Expressing concern about low registration levels for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Downes said while there has been a push in those areas in recent times, “the base for developing STEM is just not there”.

He also pointed to students’ less than favourable performance in English Language and Mathematics.

Despite some improvement, Downes said that performance suggested “there is some wastage in the system that we need to deal with or we need to certainly rearrange the system in such a way that those rates will be much higher”.

He said there were also some “disturbing issues” that needed to be examined when it came to the labour market. Downes called for more programmes focused on employers’ needs.

He also lamented that there were too many adults without certification.

The economist suggested that Barbados would face challenges moving to the innovation stage of development “until we are able to raise the level or the quality of the education product that we produce”.

He therefore urged private sector entities to become more involved in the design of the school curricula since they were in a good position to say what areas of training were needed.

The university official also called on the private sector to do more fundraising to help with the development of the education system and provide more mentoring opportunities to help young people build their capabilities.

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