Programmed to hold back our development?

Minister of Education Robert Lewis: Although the Ministry of Education has evolved, and is striving to establish and maintain equity in the distribution  of resources and quality educators, inequity in student placement remains.

Minister of Education Robert Lewis: Although the Ministry of Education has evolved, and is striving to establish and maintain equity in the distribution of resources and quality educators, inequity in student placement remains.

The advantage of economic growth is not that wealth increases happiness, but that it increases the range of human choice… it gives man greater control over his environment and thereby increases freedom.”

If the education system of Saint Lucia were grounded in these powerful words by Sir William Arthur Lewis, then this piece would be boasting of its wonderful contributions to the development of the country! Unfortunately, what actually obtains begs attention, if only the recognition that statistical data cannot be the sole measure of a country’s development. What then should be considered?

Among the several theories of development which have been projected, Fagerlind and Saha (1983), assert that in order for a human being to progress he must develop his mind, a factor that is fundamental for the advancement of a society. In their view, an investment in education would achieve this aim, since the population would be equipped with the knowledge essential for socio-economic development, as well as for the progress of individuals.

To them, the construct of development begins within the mind, and as important as this is, since after all, the steps which one takes towards progress relies on his philosophy, more applicable at this time is the contribution of the education system in St Lucia to the country’s development.

Further, true development of a country, according to Seers (1969), is reflected in the decline in its level of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, over a period of time. Further, he believes that evidence of an increase in the rate of literacy, as well as an improvement in the standard of living of the masses, are all indicative of a country’s development, and not necessarily an increase in per capita output.

Seers’ contribution is indeed relevant to what obtains in Saint Lucia, for while we claim development, the country bleeds from deep wounds of poverty, unemployment, crime, illiteracy and inequality. Moreover, the miracle antidote called formal education seems but an illusion, which is indeed ironic, considering its accessibility in this country, having achieved universal primary education since the 1980s and universal secondary education in 2006! Further, for those who were invisible within the confines of their school walls, another chance at redemption is being dangled in their faces through what is referred to as non-formal education.

These are admirable accomplishments, however, as an educator in the system this writer has had the privilege of associating with scores of students, and with conviction can attest to the increase in the number of students each year who, despite their innate brilliance, remain undiscovered because of the misguided notion of the role of formal education. Ponder on this for a bit, then decide which form of education is more valuable.

Ingrained in our being are those values, skills, knowledge and attitudes which Coombs, Prosser and Ahmed (1973), defined as the informal education individuals receive throughout their lifetime. This character-building form of learning, they say, is experienced daily, as one is influenced by his environment—from family, neighbours, the workplace and the media. Much like what is referred to as social learning, which provides enrichment for the workplace, thus strengthening its social fabric. This, therefore, suggests that an individual’s personality, is created, and evolves in tandem with his experiences, inadvertently being manifested in his performance, at home, in the classroom, as well as in the workplace; which explains why the upsurge of indiscipline, crime, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse, among our youth, can translate to their non-productivity as adults in society.

In Saint Lucia, we took pride in the informal education we received from our parents, grandparents, neighbours, and shopkeepers. Even our forefathers, in the 1940s, who, while they shed blood, sweat and tears on the banana plantations, did so wholeheartedly, knowing that their wives were at home to ensure their children were being raised with the morals, values, attitudes and skills. This focus on discipline was extended to school life, highlighting a strong home-school relationship; so if a child dared to report a flogging from a teacher, she was guaranteed further punishment at home!

Indeed, as we examine the causes and effects of the shift from the banana industry to a service-oriented industry, we correlate its collapse with the social ills among our youth today! Stability in the home structure was prevalent then, so children were provided with an environment conducive for the development of tacit skills and knowledge. The indiscipline which now manifests in our formal education system was consequently non-existent then.

Therefore, although the banana industry arose because it was expedient for Britain, we can appreciate the positive which resulted from it. The heavy focus on instrumental learning was beneficial, and can still be! Our retired teachers, who produced the doctors, lawyers, the prime ministers, and other professionals, learned by teaching! They had no initial formal training! Our farmers and fishermen, had no formal education beyond the primary level, yet they contributed immensely to the economic productivity of society and still do! Also, did successful entrepreneurs like Michael Chastenet and Butch Stewart attend university? Yet their business skills are admirable! Tenacity and a desire to survive propelled them to excel in their fields, not a certificate. Unfortunately, today’s meritocratic and punitive society, places more value on certification as opposed to performance. As a result, unless one is “qualified” he isn’t worth a chance.

Without an avenue for apposite learning, in which people develop competence in independent judgment, critical thinking and an autonomous approach to learning, their personal and professional growth would be deficient. Informal education therefore, facilitates an environment for the attainment of individual success, which can lead to greater competence in the formal classroom, as well as in the workplace.

The cure therefore to poverty and all the issues associated with it, may not rest solely with education! It may also necessitate a change in the attitude of our “alleged best brains,” towards this construct. Turning now to formal education, the reliability of this statement will be determined.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday, February 27, 2013, the Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony indicated that growth in the economy in recent years has been subdued, falling, it is estimated, to a low of -0.6 percent in 2012. Further, he lamented an unemployment rate of 24 percent, reaching an estimated high of 45 percent among our youth in the labour force. With such disheartening statistics, it is not surprising that St Lucia is among seven other Caribbean territories which the Caribbean Development Bank has listed as having a high and unsustainable debt!

Who and what then is responsible for the status of our country? Who does this slow economic growth inadvertently affect? Based on the statistics from the head of the nation, the rate of unemployment is a grave predicament. What does a low employment rate say about our education system, since it is supposed to prepare its students to make a meaningful contribution to society?

Formal education in Saint Lucia, which reflects a hierarchically structured, chronologically graded education system, is indicative of a system designed to obviate the thinking of the masses, with educators invariably being in control of the way in which their students interpret their world.

In retrospect, this mirrors the days of slavery, when our forefathers were brainwashed into believing they were undeserving of “a good education,” so they were sent out to the fields to toil. Ironically it is this hard labour which led to the oppressors’ generation of wealth! Unfortunately, governments have inherited the attitude of the slave masters, when education served only the agenda of their oppressors. With Saint Lucia being post-colonial, history reveals that the condescending nature of the formal education system emanated from its function to indoctrinate the ex-slave. We were fooled into believing that our culture, language, values, etc, were inferior to that of our masters. Our creativity was suppressed to accommodate the knowledge which the masters believed to be of most worth the knowledge which was deemed at that time, to facilitate development of the country.

Today the education system continues to reflect colonial principles, imposing innovations which come and go with no success, as frequent as governments change. Self-centered politicians continue to yield to whichever idea that seems profitable at the time, with no consideration of the needs of the country and regardless of how counterproductive to our national aspirations. While they all may have good intentions, their vulnerability usually leads to severe repercussions.

One such example was the achievement of Universal Secondary Education in 2006, which hypnotized many parents into thinking that all students could succeed at singing the “Entrance Hymn” (Trezelle, 2007). This milestone affords every student a place at a secondary school. However, to what end? It seems to be but an illusion that this small entrance is open to all students, since the curriculum has not been revised to suit student diversity. As a result, the schools receiving the “cream of the crop” always excel at the daunting CSEC examination. In addition, performance expectancy at some secondary schools is alarmingly low, with few parents selecting them as schools of first choice. In the academic year, 2010/2011, the Statistical Digest from the Ministry of Education, revealed that two of these schools, received no form one students, because they were excluded from the parents’ list of options. Although the Ministry of Education has evolved, and is striving to establish and maintain equity in the distribution of resources and quality educators, inequity in student placement remains.

How can schools that receive only top performers be compared with schools that receive students on the opposite end of the spectrum? Surely this is a recipe for disaster! Those students who attend “low” performing schools, are de-motivated and feel marginalized and ostracized, so they seek solace in destructive avenues. Consequently, the secondary school dropout rate, presented in a document, which provides an analysis of issues in Saint Lucia’s education system, increased to 8% during the academic year 2008/2009, just two years after the implementation of USE.

Isn’t that perpetuating the culture of silence, where students are being denied the skills to think critically about their world, disempowering them and stripping them of their voices to rise above their circumstances? There is much talk about multi-literacies and critical literacy in efforts to alleviate the damage inflicted on our children, by our education system. However, talk with no change is as useful as an insane person trying to lead a country. Let’s see if the Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment (CPEA) will be that change.

Finally, our formal education system, as it exists, prepares our students to become employees, as opposed to becoming self-reliant investors. Our dependency mentality has us grounded in the belief that our own is inferior to what’s outside. Policy makers lack the faith in the potential for agricultural productivity change and exports, hence the failure of this industry in Saint Lucia to grow at a pace conducive to rapid industrialization. In consequence we import fruit juices, pumpkin, broccoli, tomatoes, and even coconut oil, when we are pregnant with an abundance of fruit trees, and fertile soil. We continue to admonish the masses for purchasing foreign goods, yet we continue to import what we can produce!

Clearly, our formal education system has been failing our students, stifling their creativity and crippling their ability to excavate their talents and potential, hence the necessity for the third ideal, non-formal education which arose so as to provide learners with a second chance at success.

In St Lucia, the present government places much emphasis on this form of schooling, having recognized the deficiencies in the formal structure of education. During their last tenure, they gave birth to organizations such as the Center for Adolescent Rehabilitation and Education (CARE), the National Enrichment Learning Programme (NELP), and the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC), all in an effort to improve the quality of life of those who had been neglected in the formal system. Such practical empowerment facilitates the acquisition of marketable skills, namely English, Mathematics, technical and vocational skills, as well as the ability to critically give direction to one’s life.

Additionally, non-formal education has truly been a step towards rescuing our drowning population, who as a result of these programmes, have been gainfully employed. Notwithstanding the inevitable room for improvement, over which critiques salivate, students who would have otherwise been idle on the streets, now are engaged meaningfully, being given a sense of purpose to their lives. For a barrage of reasons, there exist students who are unable to function in the classroom. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse makes it impossible for a child to focus on learning. Limitations caused by delayed cognitive developers are sometimes ignored so these students fall through the cracks. Also, students who dwell in low socio-economic households seldom attend school, and when they do, their stomachs and bags are empty!

The leaders in Saint Lucia, being reactive, have therefore realized the value of the traditional sector, where labour is self-employed, unlike the capitalist sector where enterprises (private or state), use reproducible capital, hire labour for wage, and sell products for profit. Ideally, and as a proactive nation, its formal education system should create local hotel owners, for example, which feed off local agriculture; factories for canned fruit and fish, where employment opportunities are made available for those graduating from the non-formal system.

This writer, while at a particular “low-performing” secondary school, observed in awe as the clothing and textile students, males and females, completed their masterpieces as part of their School Based Assessment. The beautiful voice of one of their classmates could be heard as they focused on completing their task! Now what will become of their talent? Moreover, our private sector should be dominated by our native Saint Lucians! Essentially, the remedy to eradicating poverty and unemployment in our context seems to be the provision of land, jobs, and social services.

Indeed, the leaders, irrespective of party colour, cannot be blamed for our history. However they can be held accountable for continuing the unwelcome legacy. On the country’s journey towards true independence and development, the focus is on ensuring that we keep up with our international comparators and competitors, but we must also realize that this is not a level playing field! How can we compare and try to keep up with first world countries that have already set the pace, albeit by way of enslaving and exploiting us?

To conclude, in understanding the merely administrative demarcation of the discussed forms of education, can they be looked at in isolation? Relative to development, there is some level of interdependency, with the effectiveness of one, informing what happens in the other. Further, the process of development can be likened to that of a flower- gradual and inevitable, and formal education is a fundamental contributor to that process. Formal education can encapsulate both informal and non-formal education, within its walls, by making the paradigm shift towards putting the needs of the people first. After all, just as we teach students, and not the curriculum, which forces us to modify that document accordingly, so too can we break free from the forces that have been dictating to us what our needs should be! Indeed it is time to cut the puppet strings which control our journey, and time to be visionaries and creators of our destiny!

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