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About education and our national discourse

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In my column last week, I drew attention to the aggressive behaviour that exists at all levels in our society. Related to this, of course, is the anger that we see on the faces of persons in the streets. We hear it too from many of the persons who phone into radio programmes and from postings on Facebook. Stalky John in an address at the opening of Bigger Biggs’ new venture said that his talking was a way of getting rid of what was bottled up in his system.{{more}} And from listening to him, what he was obviously referring to was anger driven by the way things were going in the society and the fact that people have been putting up with it. Interestingly, many people are now ‘speaking out’ and perhaps, like QC John, it is their way of releasing anger. This anger in a time of uncertainty about the calling of elections is not in the best interest of SVG. What I call the silly season is a period of non-productivity and uncertainty, as the whole nation finds itself in a wait and see situation. This is also not a time conducive to attracting foreign investments, which we desperately need. In fact, some people see this period as one of getting as much as possible from those contending for political office. Things that have long been ticking in the society tend to come to the forefront.

I am one who believes that in any democratic and progressive society we need to speak to one another and like civilized beings, agree to disagree. But the problem is that for long we have been existing in a ‘Cold War’ situation. It is in this kind of atmosphere that the anger pours out and verbal battles become heightened. But we pride ourselves on being an educated society. Should education not have made a difference? Should those of us whose education came from the pockets of taxpayers not have a responsibility to lead a civilized conversation? A friend of mine from a neighbouring country, in commenting on happenings in SVG, said “I have no idea when the victim mentality that seems to pervade the Caribbean will dissipate. The profusion of institutions of higher learning seems not to be making any difference to the intellectual capacity of the people.” The problem, as I see it, is that the products from such institutions put their best efforts into defending their turf and attempting to carve out a place for themselves.

But education is seen as the most critical factor in transforming our society. So, what has gone wrong? Needed is a real revolution in education. I am speaking here of total transformation, which is what a revolution is about. It is not simply about ensuring greater access to institutions of higher learning, but must also be about transforming curriculum, methods of learning and teaching and relating education to the challenges and needs of the society. Ours is largely a patchwork. We have introduced computers into the school system, but to what extent did we prepare ourselves for this? To what extent have teaching and learning been transformed? These have to be examined in the context of the global environment as new challenges and changes present themselves to us.

As I have said time and again, education today is a continuous process from birth to grave. What we thought we knew changes daily, if not hourly! The best example of this is in the field of health, particularly with nutrition. At one time we were told to seriously limit our intake of eggs. Coconut oil was said to have high levels of cholesterol. How do we deal with this? Do we just throw up our hands in despair or do we react like Strolling Scribbler? Many years ago, I had written a piece in the Vincentian newspaper refuting Columbus’s discovery of St Vincent and also challenging the concept of discovery. Strolling Scribbler went totally mad. After all, he had learnt that in school and it could not be questioned. In this era of rapid changes, what you have learnt often becomes outdated once you leave the portals of the institutions. What has to be emphasized is the matter of critical thinking. Cramming facts or what we thought were facts has to be thrown out. Our students must be prepared to develop a critical approach to what they are told and taught, and to discover for themselves. This is perhaps the most critical ingredient for a graduate of our institutions of learning.

We need, more than ever, an informed society. Today, there are many avenues for the provision of information, among them newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. But we cannot blindly accept what we hear or see; we have to bring that critical approach into play. That questioning mind has to be at work, for we cannot simply accept what we heard or saw. We often repeat things that we were told, even though on careful examination these should have appeared farfetched to us.

With all of this, many of us find pleasure in parading our certificates and degrees. When I was growing up, there was the saying that sense (common) was made before book. This remains true, especially given our patched up education system, where goals have not changed. Daily, we hear persons who did not have access to institutions of higher learning making sterling contributions to the national discourse, deformed as it might be. Additionally, as my friend hinted, we have to get rid of this victim mentality and see ourselves as subjects with the ability to take control and to question what we are told, whether presented as news or informed opinion.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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