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Education – the road to SVG’s development

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05.NOV.10

Editor: Prime Minister Errol Barrow might have started the Caribbean’s first education revolution in the 1960s when he focused on education of his people as a tool for the long term development of his country. He is credited with the democratization of the educational process and providing free education for all Barbadians at all levels of the social spectrum.{{more}}

Today, Barbadians are considered the most educated citizens of any country in the Caribbean, with a remarkable low illiteracy rate that is the envy of other nations. Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago also followed suit and placed education at the top of the agenda in Trinidad and Tobago. Today, given their oil wealth, Trinidadians are afforded free education through to undergraduate studies, and depending on their academic ability, it is extended to a doctorate.

Prime Minister Gonsalves has demonstrated that he also sees education as integral to the development of our country. With two of the most successful economies in the region having enhanced human capacity as their backbone, he saw much to emulate for his country. Before the Unity Labour Party (ULP) took office in 2001, St. Vincent and the Grenadines was marking time on the proverbial treadmill, with the SVLP administration and seventeen years under the New Democratic Party (NDP), where the activities in school construction and curriculum development in reality only allowed St. Vincent and the Grenadines to maintain the status quo.

In the OECS, St. Vincent and the Grenadines had fallen behind the others, and while both the ULP and NDP subscribed to the policy framework for education as outlined by the Education Reform Unit of the OECS, the NDP seemed to lack the will and or ability to do what was necessary to see it materialize. Strategy 32 in the principles of education reform in the OECS calls for “the restructuring of the school system to provide or maintain the provision of universal secondary education up to the age of 16 years; all students transferred to secondary education should be guaranteed five years of secondary schooling from the time of their transfer:”

In five years, the ULP moved the country to universal secondary education, earning for the leader of the party the nickname Hurricane Ralph. This was seen as a derogatory nomenclature by the Opposition spokespersons in their programme

“New Times”. The methods used to achieve universal secondary education were also questioned by the World Bank, which later complimented the government for a successful implementation of the programme.

It must be pointed out that the education reform programme being implemented under the ULP included a pre-school programme, and scholarships from friendly governments to increase the number of persons who have access to tertiary education.

The initial reaction of the NDP to the “Education Revolution” was to criticise the push to universal secondary education, with claims that there was not adequate preparation at the primary level. They expressed the view that a more gradual approach was necessary. In a transparent political posture, many in the leadership of the NDP seemed delighted when the level of completion in some of the new secondary schools appeared low, when as a government in waiting, they should be celebrating the successes of those who would otherwise have had no chance.

I am expressing an opinion here when I speculate that the NDP would not turn back universal secondary education, but that their emphasis would be on strengthening the curriculum at the primary school level. I am basing that assumption on the fact that most of their criticism of the “Education Revolution” is aimed at the primary schools. I am waiting on their manifesto to see if that is the case.

Given the above, I ask you to judge which political party is likely to do more for the future of St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the next five years.

Consider what an enhanced human capacity has meant for Barbados, in term of innovation and building a vibrant business sector. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has started exporting skilled labour in our nurses and teachers, resulting in increased remittances. We are part of the CSME and the OECS, and the playing field is being levelled for our citizens.

Think before you vote.

John Edwards

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