STEM pioneer: Science education should be compulsory for young students

A pioneer in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field believes that science education is so important to the future of Barbados that it should be compulsory for youngsters.

Professor Cardinal Warde, a Barbadian and President of the Caribbean Diaspora for Science, Technology and Innovation made these comments recently while facilitating a series of thought-provoking consultations with stakeholders in education, the public and private sectors on STEM education. The consultations were supported by the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development under its Barbados Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy programme.

Professor Cardinal Warde, a Barbadian and President of the Caribbean Diaspora for Science, Technology and Innovation made these comments recently while facilitating a series of thought-provoking consultations with stakeholders in education, the public and private sectors on STEM education. The consultations were supported by the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development under its Barbados Human Resource Development (HRD) Strategy programme.

Professor Warde, the inventor of 12 patents and a professor of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is reviewing the current situation in Barbados with respect to the delivery of STEM education and developments in STEM employment. His review will inform the development of an overall blueprint on strategies for building an inclusive 21st century workforce that is competent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to drive innovation and improve international competitiveness.

During a recent interview Professor Warde said that any STEM blueprint for Barbados “belongs to the people of Barbados and, therefore, their input was important. Hopefully, by the end of this process we will end up with a strategic plan for the country based on best practices around the world and what the people here want.”

With the implementation of this blueprint, the inventor said that within five years one should be able to see the beginnings of “significant reforms in STEM education in Barbados… once the country is brave, stops looking for incremental changes and goes for revolutionary changes.”

In 10 years, Professor Warde continued, the economy could start to reflect the positive impact of STEM education. Some of our young people (could) start thinking of starting their own businesses where they incorporate STEM to start companies that they would not have started before. But the infrastructure needs to be in place to get these companies off the ground.

In 10 years, Professor Warde continued, the economy could start to reflect the positive impact of STEM education. Some of our young people (could) start thinking of starting their own businesses where they incorporate STEM to start companies that they would not have started before. But the infrastructure needs to be in place to get these companies off the ground.

Professor Warde also said that for a country the size of Barbados, partnerships were of critical importance. Partnerships on technology and at the governmental level are key….These types of exchanges can be very useful for Barbados; we can learn from others. If we have such a great educational system why are we in trouble financially? So something’s wrong. A strong primary school system is not good enough. (Just) because every (one) can read and write, that’s not sufficient to drive the economy but that’s what we boast about.

The STEM workshops supported one of the HRD Strategy’s goals which is to develop a demand-driven educational system which ensures that Barbadians are equipped with the skills and competencies needed by industry and which will ensure improved employment and business opportunities.

Erika Watson, Programme Analyst, HRD Strategy Unit noted that STEM education is a means of realising human potential and of enhancing national competitiveness. “These two components reflect what the HRD Strategy speaks to. The emphasis on competitiveness is ultimately tied to the overall national goals of developing and stimulating economic growth and a higher level of development.

Participants in the consultations engaged in lively discussion and shared detailed feedback on the current state of STEM education. Meshia Clarke, Programme Officer with the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI) said that it was important to make the connection between new, high priority growth areas and STEM-related subjects to chart a path for Barbados’ services economy.

“We want to see a greater integration of persons with STEM-related skills into high growth areas such as Health and Wellness, Renewable Energy, and Biomedical sectors; and we want to see higher-skilled individuals involved so that value-added opportunities are created,” she said.

Engineer Shannon Clarke, suggested that science groups be formed in each school which are led by students themselves with guidance and advice from teachers and STEM professionals. He also recommended that incentives be provided to technology companies in Barbados whether locally or foreign owned to encourage service exports. “And we can provide other initiatives to companies that demonstrate processes through which they generate foreign exchange through service exports.”

The Ministry of Labour is implementing the HRD Strategy in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation. It is being funded by grants through the European Union (EU) to the tune of €50 million. The EU, through a series of consultancies, is also offering technical assistance to support the activities of the strategy.

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