Saint Lucia’s Didacus Jules is the registrar and Chief Executive Officer of CXC based in Barbados. An outspoken individual on the issues surrounding education in the region, the former PS in the Ministry of Education in an interview with the STAR in 2010 expressed regret at the slow pace of education reform. Noting that the present education structure was giving rise to an apparent elitism in education, Jules said then that apart from the pressures of CXC on secondary school students there was the “added injurious constraint on students who are slow learners who may end up in schools which are seen as neglected institutions.”
He went on: “In some schools this has resulted in a number of students dropping out either from the pressure of discrimination or because they are unable to cope with the heavy emphasis of academics rather than skills and vocational training.”
Two years later and apparently not much has changed. In fact old problems appear to be worsening and new ones increasing. The latest challenge for Dr Jules and CXC is the appalling results in English Language and Mathematics across the region. Jules’ response to the harsh criticism leveled at CXC for their role at a forum in Guyana was that education in the region was under great strain.
“We do not need people to stand on the outside and pontificate, we need workers in the vineyard, people who are prepared to put their shoulders behind the wheel,” he stated adding, “Now is the time for less lamentation and more decisive action.”
“Blaming ministers, teachers or any relevant person is not going to change that empirical reality one iota,” he declared.
At the other end of the cohort, early childhood from birth to age five, Didacus Jules is also fingering the region for lack of emphasis there. This lack of attention, he points out, is what is resulting in expensive remedial work later on and the poor results are now being reflected at the secondary school level.
Jules spoke to journalists in Barbados last week during the partnering of the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) and LIAT. As a member of the board of FDCC he noted that when people speak about early childhood education in the context of educational development in the Caribbean as a whole there is also need to recognize some of the positive strides. However as a region, Jules said that despite being at a point of universal secondary education, the access to tertiary education was increasing but not quickly enough. Dr Jules noted there was a big gap in education in the region, particularly in early childhood education.
“It is highly ironic because here we have a really lopsided education system,” he said. “We have a system that provides universal primary education, universal secondary education, increasing access to tertiary education, but guess what? It stands on legs that are not properly developed which is early childhood development.”
“Early childhood development programs make children more likely to start primary school ready to learn and therefore able to do better throughout their school life. Children who get a good start are less likely to need expensive Special ED classes and are more likely to graduate,” the educator went on. “If we are to look at a study of remediation in education in the Caribbean it is astounding the amount of money Governments have been forced to spend in order to remediate when we should be getting it right from the start,” Jules explained. “And because investing in early childhood development has a ripple effect over the lifespan of the beneficiaries, these interventions are among the most cost effective a country and the region can make in its human development and the capital formation of its people.”
The FDCC chairman went on to reveal key regional data, some of which he says has revealed that significant portions of the early childhood cohorts are not exposed to structural early childhood programming.
“Access therefore continues to be a challenge in this region. Investment in early childhood has largely been left to private sector, community and religious initiatives. A public expenditure average of 3.5 percent of total public expenditure is spent on pre-primary, and where investments have been made, they have centered largely on infrastructure; bricks and mortar and not on the quality learning environment or quality service delivery,” Jules explained.
Jules says Caribbean Governments have given early childhood low priority in the development of quality services. In the example of Saint Lucia, he noted that early childhood has been the responsibility of several governmental departments and planning has often been uncoordinated.
“There are two ministries dealing with early childhood development and it has been for the last ten years to simply put on the agenda that there should be a single entity dealing with this issue. This lack of coordination means Government investments at both national and regional levels are neither operating as efficiently or effectively as possible. As a result we are missing the opportunity to increase the number of young children who are entering primary schools with the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary for school and lifelong success,” Jules emphasized.
Didacus Jules stressed however, that despite the fact that Government has its roles and responsibilities in early childhood development, regional partnerships, agencies and private providers were also important in extending the range of early childhood services. On Tuesday he did not evade the all bearing question of the poor showing by Caribbean students in Mathematics and English Language saying; the problem starts from there (early childhood education). “And if we get it right from the beginning we don’t have to do remediation,” Dr Jules declared.