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That New World of Education


It is that time of year again when education takes front page on the peoples’ agenda. In fact this is where the real revolution is. Parents are investing tremendously in their children’s education. They are making enormous sacrifices to ensure that their children get what they did not. One parent told me recently that she had not cooked for three days. What little money she had was to be used to assist her son (who was at one of the secondary schools) in getting books and school uniforms.{{more}} A lady from Canouan was busy around town trying to make arrangements for the accommodation of her son who had gained entry to one of the schools in Kingstown. It required so much of her! The investment is also in time, energy and emotion. Quite often the money is not there, but parents are prepared to face the challenges that exist. The whole atmosphere is caught up with this. The newspapers herald the successes of those who have succeeded in the GCE and Caribbean Examinations Council examinations. Little is said to calm the spirit and fears and to encourage those who did not succeed. The town is filled with mothers shopping around for uniforms and books. Really, a large number of parents realise that the only future they can guarantee their children is one that depends on them taking whatever educational opportunities are available. Even if many might not have sat down and fully analysed and articulated it, they realise that to survive in this modern world education is the key. They are aware of the enormous competition and see education as the only meaningful path for survival. I am of the view that over the years there has been a huge turn-around in attitudes to education. True enough some of these same people who have made the sacrifices to get their children to secondary school do not follow through in the way they ought to. Many are still absent at Parent Teacher meetings. Fathers, in particular, are still conspicuous by their absence as though the education of their children is a woman’s thing. And it appears indeed that some persons are more concerned about others knowing that their sons or daughters are at secondary school than in following through to give them all of the encouragement and support they need. But this latter group is getting smaller.

As we climb the educational ladder we realise that there is significant fallout among the boys/men. This is an issue that is being debated widely but still the answers do not come easily. Why the men are copping- out remains a puzzle. Where I sit as Head of the University of the West Indies Open Campus in St.Vincent and the Grenadines, the overwhelming female dominance in numbers is frightening. When you look ahead at what SVG might be like in the next ten years it becomes mindboggling. There are many questions that arise. What would the men be doing? Where would they be? What kind of male companions would the educated female woman find? How would the male ego respond to a situation where their female partners would obviously be getting higher paid jobs? What would that do to the traditional view of men as breadwinners and heads of the household? Even before we reach that point in the few years down the road that I am looking at, it has to be understood that even today this is an issue. Many men cannot deal with a situation where their women/wives are earning more than them? What is quite disturbing is that there are men who try to prevent their girl friends/wives from taking advantage of educational opportunities that might offer themselves.

I am convinced that many problems between male and female partners have their origins here.

The University of the West Indies Open Campus

Even as we see a new appreciation of the importance of education, there are still large gaps. Education is a continuing process that goes from the cradle to the grave. This process from the cradle to the grave is being assisted by developments in technology, where with access to a computer and the Internet a whole new world is being opened. The point I am emphasizing here is that the issue goes beyond making sacrifices for children. Opportunities are now being opened up for parents who had lacked these opportunities when they were children. This is where the University of the West Indies Open Campus comes into the picture. Part of its focus is on the mature student. Opportunities are being presented for pre-University programmes to provide the necessary qualifications for those who want to continue their education. Programmes are also being offered at Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degree levels. Courses/programmes will be offered for persons who simply want to improve their knowledge in particular areas and a lot more attention will be given to shorter courses, that is, weekend -courses/ workshops, targeted at different levels on the educational ladder. The University of the West Indies Open Campus operates as a virtual campus and offers both face to face and on-line programmes/courses. There is an awareness that persons who have completed first degrees often have difficulty going away to pursue post-graduate work. At that stage of their lives they are likely to have strong family commitments- to be married and have children and also to have senior positions at work that would not easily facilitate their moving away from their jobs. Increasingly post-graduate programmes will be offered on-line. One of the advantages of on-line programmes is that students can better manage their study times, catering to their work and family commitments. Additionally they do not have to leave the country.

Exploring That New World

So there is a whole new world out there, not only for the young students but for everyone. As we move towards the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (that is, if it ever becomes a reality), we cannot assume that because we are from St.Vincent and the Grenadines we are going to have a natural advantage over a person from a different part of the Caribbean. Employers, whether government or private, want the best people available, and this in the end is what will matter. But education is not only about providing people with the skills to find employment and to fight off competition. Education is about development in a holistic sense and our educational goals have to take this into account. Education is not only about the formal process (if it really ever was)and what you learn in that process. There are different media and it extends beyond the traditional classroom, made more so by developments in technology. So we have to explore that new world and begin to look at education in a different way and to realise that we are all students regardless of age, paper qualifications or where you stand in society. I read with interest the debate in the newspapers about who is qualified to understand the constitution. It is surprising that this is where we have reached. But this is a society where we have for long been caught up with who is bright and who is not. It is a pity, when there are so many important matters that we need to talk about and to realise that we all have opinions and we all live in a democracy where there is freedom of expression or rather where there should be freedom of expression.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.