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Education Revolution – accessibility, opportunity

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Editor: Henry Ford did not invent the automobile; he popularized it and made it affordable to the ordinary man with his introduction of the assembly line. There are some who begrudgingly disaffirm the Unity Labour Party government’s education revolution. They assert that the gains in the education system are as a result of a natural progression. A sort of spontaneous advancement by osmosis.{{more}}

Granted, this is not the first significant improvement in education dispensation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Acknowledgement and recognition must be given and tribute paid to other pioneers. The two foremost were Dr. J. P. Eustace and Mr. Timmy Richards who were together responsible for the creation of the Intermediate High School, and Dr. Eustace solely for the Emmanuel High School. Their initiative vastly changed the academic landscape. No longer was a secondary education the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, well connected and benevolent oligarchy. These two visionaries are to be declared National Heroes for their noble effort. Recognition is also accorded to the founders of the private and parochial schools.

Proactive and creative methods

When the Unity Labour Party took office in 2001, only 39 per cent of 12 year olds were assimilated into the secondary school system. Sixty-one per cent were systematically consigned to terminate their academic careers at the primary level. The new government built new secondary schools, converted some primary schools into secondary plants and expanded existing secondary schools by building the much criticized and maligned “board schools/classrooms” on the premises of existing schools. More teachers were trained at the entry and advanced levels to staff the additional schools. The community college was expanded, especially the A-level and Nursing divisions.

Incidentally, the same thing is done in places like Dallas, Texas, to accommodate the thousands of children who come into the DISD (Dallas Independent School District) annually. It takes about five years to get a new school built in Dallas from the time of conception, to the passing a bond issue authorization in the city council, and finally constructing the physical plant. Of course, as in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, you do not tell the parents of five year olds to home-school their children until a school is built. You implement proactive and creative methods to facilitate the process.

This access to universal secondary education opened up the flood gates for Vincentian students vying for matriculation into colleges and universities. Many of them having met the academic requirement for admission, however, did not have the financial wherewithal to gain entry to tertiary institutions. The education oriented Prime Minister whose mantra was: “Let the youth soar like eagles” delivered in an unprecedented manner; he signed as guarantor under the “Disadvantaged Student Loan Program” to let the eagles soar, and soar they have been, in the hundreds. Matter of fact, St. Vincent and the Grenadines went from dead last, in terms of enrollment at the University of the West Indies, excluding campus-host countries to first and has maintained that position. Our students are excelling in all areas of study. The man on a mission, the rebel with a cause, secured scholarships for Vincentian students on every continent except Antarctica – of course, no one lives there. And they tell me that all this is

happening as a result of “natural progression”? It’s the indisputable result of a proactive, deliberate intervention designed to bring about a predetermined and desired result.

In my humble opinion, the government has been very modest to term it a mere “revolution”. The revolution has brought about a renaissance in learning throughout the length and breadth of the country. Adult education is once again en vogue. Whereas prior to the revolution there had only been four teachers in the primary system with undergraduate degrees, five short years later, there are almost four hundred.

Tweaking educational system

The system is not perfect. The issue of truancy needs to be addressed in concert with parents and other concerned citizens. A more equitable assignment of guidance counselors at the primary and secondary levels and career counselors and academic advisors at the tertiary level is desirable and necessary. Training of more special education teachers to facilitate the identification of children with special needs, such as attention deficit disorder, dyslexia etc. The development of modules, systems and strategies to facilitate these special needs. The incremental tweaking of the system will over time bring about a more user-friendly, effective and efficient academic environment.

I have heard statements by detractors, in their bigoted and demagogic effort to discredit the revolution, such as: “There are bright people all over the place.” Granted, but I say to such ones: “You could be as bright as a 1000 watt bulb and as sharp as a tack; if you are not given access and opportunity, you are not likely to realize your fullest academic potential.”

As if totally devoid of any semblance of rational and logical thought and bereft of any analytic thinking process, they make asinine statements such as: “They can’t all be doctors and lawyers. Some of them have to be masons, carpenters and mechanics.”

Long live education revolution

According to that rationale, boys who aspire to be tradesmen do not require a secondary education. In their way of thinking, 12 year old boys should be perched on scaffolds running blocks and painting fascia boards. 12 year old children, except under very rare circumstances, ought not to be placed in Technical/Vocational institutions. They should first be exposed to a minimum of three years of secondary tutorship and sit and pass the SBA examination. They ought to be grounded in the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic before being enrolled in Tech/Voc. At the tender age of twelve, these children do not possess the maturity, scholastic aptitude nor manual dexterity to lift and run blocks or maneuver a power saw.

The renaissance is here to stay. And judging from what we hear coming from some of the detractors, especially on talk radio, they and the nation will be well served if they, too, avail themselves of the opportunities made available through the adult and continuing education program. Long live the education revolution.

Benson Plaugh-Feddows