THE NEED FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD AND PRIMARY EDUCATION REFORM IN BARBADOS By Edmund G. Hinkson, M.P.
Successive Governments of Independent Barbados have consistently and correctly allocated the highest percentage of its annual revenues to the Ministry of Education. Only allocations towards the sustainable health of our citizens have come near to what has been allocated to the educational advancement of our people, particularly our youth, over the last sixty years. Indeed, our first Central Bank Governor Sir Courtney Blackman remarked that in the 34 year timeframe between 1966 and 2000, a period over which Barbados has almost equally been governed by both major political parties, successive Governments of Barbados had spent US $15 billion on education costs. Our country’s present annual budget towards education is now generally about 1/2 billion Barbados dollars.
Barbados still generally possesses an educational system with its fundamentals rooted in colonial times. Other former British colonies, for example, have moved away from the concept of a single exam on a defined day determining an 11 year old child’s transition from primary to secondary school. We need to seriously decide as a people if we can afford to continue along this path in a modern era of a highly competitive universe without trade or financial preferences, as was previously the case due to our small size and history. Contemporary times demand that we maximize our human resource capacity to include and involve as many of our people as possible in our national development.
Barbados’ political directorate must firstly formulate a vision of where we wish our country to be in terms of national development in the next 15-20 years. Related to this national goal, our society has to determine the type of citizens we wish to create in order to take us where we need to be.
The last BLP administration wisely sought to attempt to place our country in the strategic position where it would become the smallest developed country globally by 2025. We were also to become the entrepreneurial hub in the region by 2020. This DLP government has not even attempted to define a place for Barbados in the World, as it has just led our country into socio-economic malaise.
Our political leadership needs to understand that Barbados, with the significant resources that have traditionally been spent on educating our people, is in a prime position to become the leading technological and scientific hub of the Caribbean in the next 15 years. After all, as Nelson Mandela remarked, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
We must also attempt to aim to be the entrepreneurial capital of our region. To achieve this will however require political leadership of a kind that this DLP government, including the political leadership of the education ministry, has miserably failed to demonstrate in almost eight years of governance.
The Owen Arthur administration sagaciously promoted and advanced the need for the commencement of supervised early education training for our children from the nursery age of three years old. Eeva Hujala, a child development specialist in Finland which is recognized by the United Nations Human Development Index as one of the top four countries in the world in terms of educational delivery, opines that “early education is the first and most critical stage of life-long learning. Neurological research has shown that 90 per cent of brain growth occurs during the first 5 years of life.” Finland, for example, in fact provides each and every parent of newborn babies with a book for their child at birth as well as a book for the child in order to foster a culture of reading, so critical an emphasis that country places on early childhood development.
In preparation for our vision for Barbados as the leading technological, scientific and entrepreneurial hub in our part of the universe, we need to provide our children, from nursery and primary school, with a greater opportunity to develop their individuality and creativity. We need to place wider emphasis on developing their social and interactive skills, their care and sensitivity to others’ needs and interests. Such awareness must seek to engender in our very young persons a more positive attitude towards others and a greater appreciation of their differing cultures and environments. Additionally, our early childhood education must provide our youth with the ability and capacity to think critically, to problem solve and to resolve conflict.
We must further attempt to inculcate in our children at a very early stage characteristics such as self-esteem, self-confidence, independence and the spirit of volunteerism. They will consequently acquire the psychological profile to become more responsible and useful adults. Barbados, as it moves towards 50 years of nationhood, will clearly benefit from a more active and productive citizenry, capable of employing themselves and others in their community who will need their help.
We have not undertaken any curriculum reform in our educational system since 2000 under the ministerial leadership of the Honourable Mia Mottley. We need to reform the existing subject matter to place greater emphasis during primary school education on science and technology, business, art, drama, music and craft. We also need to encourage and place systems in place for those older primary school children with an aptitude in language to study more Spanish and may be even French. Serious consideration needs to be given to appointing specialist teachers in primary schools to facilitate this paradigm shift in focus on early childhood education. Furthermore, successful business persons should be invited as of course to assist our children, even at this level, in the basic concepts of turning your hobbies and interests into legitimate money-making ventures.
Of course, we need as a country to include children with physical disabilities, many of whom have unique skills just waiting to be given the opportunity to be tapped, into our mainstream education system. In this manner, they will in the future as adults be better equipped to contribute to the national development of our country and to participate positively in our socio-economic and political affairs.
Furthermore, our Government needs to establish a Teachers’ Service Commission, separate from the Public Service Commission, as was enacted by Parliament 40 years ago in an amendment to the Constitution of Barbados. This will allow greater efficiency to be brought to bear on the reform required in the administrative structure of our educational policy and on issues relating to our teaching profession.
Any visionary political administration should be concerned with the provision of an adequate nursery and primary school system which will enable the youth to be reasonably prepared to eventually become valuable citizens. Barbados needs to sustain its reputation as one of the leading countries in our region in terms of the education of its people. This DLP administration now however only allocates about 16 percent of government revenues to the education of Barbadians, down from a high of approximately 23 per cent during periods of both the Errol Barrow and Tom Adams led governments.
We as a people cannot afford to lose hope in our youth or to neglect their future. We can only hope that the day will soon come when a responsible, caring Barbados Labour Party will be given the mandate by the people to implement more appropriate policies and programmes for the early educational development of our children.