Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato.

I am sorry to say that since arriving in Barbados nearly two years ago I remain unconvinced about certain "stylized facts" about the country. Highest on my list is the notion that Barbados has a highly educated population.

My gut feeling from encounters across the island have convinced me that, while many Bajans have gone through formal schooling and perhaps passed the prescribed tests, the population has levels of literacy and numeracy that are far lower than one would believe from statistics such as the literacy rate (99.7%), which ranks Barbados fifth in the world (see report on Wikipedia, using data from the United Nations Development Programme). For good measure, those same data rank Australia, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA joint 18th (at 99%).

So, I was interested to see two reports today that fill out some of my gut feeling. First, was a report that the Ministry of Education has been slow in improving numeracy in schools (see Barbados Advocate reports). A national policy had been developed to improve literacy but similar action had not been taken regarding numeracy. The Minister of Education (addressing the Caribbean Subregional Meeting of the Regional Policy Dialogue on Education, held at the Barbados Hilton) also put his finger on something else, the "need for greater confidence in oral expression and the promotion of critical thinking skills in order to improve comprehension and problem solving competency". The second report notes that the Education Director of the Caribbean Development Bank found a "disturbing deficit" in literacy and numeracy levels among secondary school students and school leavers. Employers are the ones bearing the brunt of this shortcoming, but so are all of us.

I wont go beyond the opinions expressed in these report. I would, however, ask you to look at and think about evidence of the lack of oral expression and critical thinking skills in action from a previous generation of students. The Minister of Education has just chided school principals for sending children home for reasons that seemed to have nothing to do with bad behaviour. The reports suggest that in doing that principals have not made any oral expressions to the parents of these children that they are being "disciplined" and being sent home--to whom we do not know, because no evidence exists that the schools even check if anyone will be available to supervise these children. That seems like a dereliction of duty by the schools. In addition, critical thinking seems lacking in not coming up with solutions better than sending someone home. Some of the reasons reported, which include for matters such as breaking dress codes or not being able to be accommodated at some school ceremony, suggest a level of ludicrousness that borders on satire.

To round out these considerations, we also read in today's newspapers that the main branch of the National Library Service has reopened after being closed for two years. All I ask myself is what kind of country allows its main library to be out of commission for two years? Not one that argues that it is on the cusp of being developed, I would argue.

A lot of what happens in Barbados seems to smack of the knee jerk reaction to situations, rather than a well thought out or considered set of actions. My view on why that is has much to do with how people see the process of education. There seems to be an awful fear here that allowing challenges is of itself threatening, rather than something that helps develop strong powers of argument; the only way to deal with challenges is to categorize them as wrongs and therefore exercise sanctions against them. I went through education processes that emphasized accepting those things that made real sense not those that were spouted by people who were given positions of authority. An idiot in a uniform is still an idiot. Good reasons are easy to accept because they are good reasons. The news surrounding education establishments in Barbados over the past two years indicate a lot of "do what we say no matter how foolish it is", and if you don't we will tell you that you are breaking down the walls of our society.

The brain is a muscle and it needs needs solid training and exercise. I don't see much evidence that in general the education programmes that exist in Barbados are sufficiently muscular.


Cindylover1969 said...

Your comments remind me of the annual news in Britain about how A-level passes increase year-on-year for years. And yet, I haven't noticed much in the way of a general increase in brainpower...

the main branch of the National Library Service has reopened after being closed for two years.

That's disgusting! I'm relieved that I don't live there anymore...

Jdid said...

Good post! I seem to remember in some classes at high school (not all) being made to feel like an idiot for asking what I thought and still think were quite logical questions.

The attitude was a bit of this is what the book says this is the law accept it move on. Oh you dont understand or accept well you must be an idiot.