Towards common chance

VOICEOFREASONEducation has been a critical part of the development and stability of Barbados, a country not endowed with any major natural resources. The ability of ordinary Barbadians to make better for themselves and this country though facing the rigours of the academic system has been a source a pride, not to mention central to the nation’s development of human capital.

Owing to the centrality of education to national progress, we must take stock and assess whether the system is as efficient and responsive as it should be –– a task never more urgent than in this moment of economic tumult and compromised social standing. As we educate individuals they become  a part of the hope of the country’s collective future.

Our Barbados Scholars and Exhibition winners as, well as National Development Scholars are a sect apart; those who by writing their names on history’s pages have made expectations great. And, with great expectations should come a commitment to ensuring that our Scholarships realize maximum success as a mechanism for enabling national development and our priorities.

More needs to be done to make these academic awards greater tools of social mobility. Let me first say that it is excellent that we do have a scheme that rewards academic success. What I wish to do in this analysis is to ensure that the programme can have the most positive impact on the lives of all those who have achieved excellent grades, particularly those of working class/the proletariat/middle class.

The regime as it currently stands does not meet the needs of a poor student who is desirous of studying abroad. The regime covers tuition, but offers little in relation to room and board, and other living costs, thus placing the working class student, who may be unable to acquire assistance from other sources, at some disadvantage .

One possible solution to this issue is for the Government to consider an increase in the amount of money an academic award of this kind is worth. Other programmes of such a nature cover full tuition and living expenses. However, we are appreciate that we are currently operating on significantly less economically and thus this is a position
the Government perhaps cannot afford to take.

A more suitable alternative may be to take consideration of the specific cases in which a student who has obtained a Barbados Scholarship finds it particularly difficult to fund their studies even after attaining an academic award. In practical terms, for a student whose parents fall under the lowest tax bracket, studying in Britain requires roughly $7,5000 to $10,000 to address living costs. For students of a middle or higher socio-economic class, their parents may be able to better offset these costs. Those students in this bracket, it is suggested, are more likely to consider overseas studies as a real possibility.

A student of less financial means in these circumstances could be offered a bursary, as additional funding, to ensure that students can focus equally on their maximum academic input.

Secondly, the bond stipulation that requires a student to work in Barbados for the equivalent of years funded by the Scholarship can be limiting. There is, of course, a utility to bonding, it ensures that the country retains the benefit of its investment. However, in a context where there is no attempt to incorporate the talents and skills into the local Public Service, and finding a job for every Barbadian is becoming ever more difficult, we are maintaining a stipulation that may see the best and brightest unemployed or underemployed.

Moreover, there is no integration of Scholarship winners into the Public Service as a first choice, whether Central Government or statutory boards, such that a funded economist would work with the Central Bank, for example. To go further, in the context of the political aspiration towards freedom of movement across the region, a move should be afoot to dismantle the requirement, allowing students to seek employment in the Caribbean and internationally, thus widening the opportunity for gainful employment and meaningful use of skills.

Another necessary reform relates to the functioning of the National Development Scholarships application process. The areas of national development interests are announced after May in any given year. In order to be eligible for consideration, a student would have had to apply to an institution during the previous academic year, leaving no time for a discreet match between potential fields of study and areas of national concentration.

In practical terms, applications for positions in a Master’s programme often close by April, and more often significantly earlier. Having applied, one has to hope that one’s area of study may be a priority to national development. Would it not simply be better to incentivize students to consider our priority areas as a factor in their selection process such that the island may benefit?

Common Entrance Exam. We spend a great deal of time each year discussing the Common Entrance Exam: celebrating results, bemoaning the existence of the exam, critiquing the attendant pecking order. Although I believe the exam to be problematic in multiple ways, I believe that it is here to stay at least for a long time to come.

As such I want to focus on those who seem to be served the greatest injustice by the exam and by the educational system more broadly.

What we should all be most interested in is finding solution for the 138 students who scored less than ten per cent in maths. Deficits of this kind do not become only evident on exam day; they should be obvious to a passionate and attentive teacher who is interested in the success of all his or her children.

Teacher accountability must become an imperative of the system. Pragmatics of accountability include regular reporting on the performance of underachievers by a teacher to the principal, who will then pass on this information to the Ministry of Education, which will endeavor to allocate resources in the form of specialist teachers  to assist those students. This is, of course, after attempts would have been made by the teacher to remedy some of the issues in the classroom.

A student who is scoring so poorly on these tests needs remedial help, which the schools need to commit themselves to providing. I fundamentally believe that parents who have the resources and access to improve their children’s performances do (a reality that allows us some of the top achievers we celebrate).

All children should benefit from robust interactions between parents and teachers, but especially children who are experiencing challenges of meeting the established markers. These interactions would give everyone an appreciation of what needs to be done, so that the child reaches its full potential.

Additionally, to the extent that structural changes are required so that our children are not rushed through a system, made to fail, left to be branded, and have their possibilities limited, let’s engage them.

I think we need to consider the very real possibility that we are setting up these children for continued failure –– a reality that presents issues for us all. In a country that is grappling with an increase in violent crime, we should wish to expand the possibilities for all of our children.

Education is part of the constant hope of our country and we need to do what we can to ensure that each person reaches their personal best. Part of creating an equitable system is making the necessary changes in the name of efficiency and responsiveness, so that education remains the tool of social mobility it has long been.

(Andwele Boyce is a young communicator who is passionate about politics and popular culture.
He holds a Master’s in international trade.)

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