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Education in the new information age

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The transition from the industrial age to this new information age has been good news for small developing countries, enabling them to overcome several of the diseconomies of scale. Information has displaced physical resources, including energy and capital, as the critical input in economic processes. Computers and robotics have trimmed workforces.

New materials and technologies have reduced the need for natural resources while advances in telecommunications have rendered distance increasingly irrelevant. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has only just begun to scratch the surface in this new dispensation with data processing and transmission of information back to the USA.{{more}} In our modern economy, information can aptly be described as the new material of knowledge, but knowledge without skill is valueless and the skill needed to process knowledge into value is management. Today knowledge and management supersede the land, labour and capital that used to be regarded as the primary factors of production.

As we are all aware, every state has important responsibilities, defence, justice, infrastructure and education; areas in which collective action is required to compliment or substitute for private market forces. The French thinker Condorcet put enormous stress on education to improve the quality of life. It is education which enables individuals to stand on their own feet, to avoid charlatans to abandon harmful superstitions, to improve their ethics and moral goodness. Thus the constant expansion of elementary and secondary education upon which St. Vincent and the Grenadines is now embarked, offers us an improvement in the destinies of our people that can be regarded as a cornerstone to future success.

The Caribbean’s own Nobel Laureate in Economics, Sir Arthur Lewis also recognized the importance of education in the development process. Addressing the matriculation ceremony of the University College of the West Indies (as it then was), Sir Arthur made some profound statements and mused prophetically about the future role of students, researchers, and as a West Indian nation. He noted that it was very costly to West Indian governments to maintain a student at the University. Indeed, at the time it cost fifty percent more than to send a student to study in England. So he asked rhetorically ‘what is the point of maintaining the college?’ before proffering his own response. Asking questions, he observed is the principal business of University people. If we are afraid to ask important questions, simply because they are dangerous questions, we cease to be honest and dishonest scholars are a menace to society. It is by pursuing truth, he noted, that we have been able to make scientific discoveries which enabled man to master nature. When we abandon the pursuit of truth because we believe that it is dangerous, we are robbing the society of that which we have taken (the resources expended on our education) but are giving nothing in return. This is why academic people have always been so hard on each other and are so ruthless in exposing each other’s errors and eliminating those of their number who let the standards fall. Sir Arthur concluded that a country yearns for its own University because it wants a body of specialists who are devoted to studying its own problems on the spot. All this we would loose if we were merely content to send our students to England. He cited another reason for keeping the expensive college going- it was meant to be a cradle for West Indian nation hood, as the only place in the Caribbean that brings young people from every territory together where we can fashion an image for ourselves. The reasons for having our own West Indies University are still valid today, fifty years on, but the foundation work for producing students who can benefit from tertiary education rests with national governments. To succeed in this new information age students of today must grasp the opportunities offered for a good foundation education in the interest of their own personal development. And, being cognizant of the resources expended by the state on their education they can derive a sense of pride if they are able to contribute in some way towards the future growth and development of their country.

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