Focus On Education Develops Nation’s Best Resource Its People

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Barbados is well known for its high standard of education and near 100 percent literacy rate, the highest in the English-speaking Caribbean. According to the island’s Minister of Education Ronald Jones those accomplishments are linked to historical factors. â€œWe have no naturally formed resources,” Jones emphasized recently. “The only thing that we had was people, and that was the primary resource we had to develop, the mind.

Jones Ronald Barbados“So Barbados, from a national perspective, took that on as a mantra: We must develop our people. That became embedded, so much so that any leader or political organization that trifles with education and training suffers at the polls, because the Barbadian psyche is one that says that is my right, it’s not a privilege.”

COMPULSORY

Barbados has a compulsory education system up to 16 years. If a child drops out of school before that age, the parents can be taken before the courts. It’s built into the Education Act. Each child is guaranteed 11 to 12 years of education, paid for by the state. Even if a child is in a private institution, that child is still guaranteed free education.

The minister explained that the history of Barbados is like the history of many other Caribbean countries — plantation economies, slave societies. Barbados’s small size made it impossible for slaves to disappear into forests, woodlands or mountain peaks. So, Barbadians historically endured the excesses of slavery, unlike Trinidad, Jamaica or even Grenada where the landscape was different. Slaves in Barbados internalized more, thinking all the time about the day when they could truly reach the level of their ability. The year 1838 brought an end to that in a formal way, but not institutionally, Jones explained. Between 1838 and 1937 Barbados was still locked into a plantation economy. But the churches – particularly Anglican - started to play a more dynamic role, moving from religious to secular education.

CHANGE

Jones explained that “in 1937 when Barbados went through a social and economic meltdown, what we call the 1937 Riots, the British started to pay more attention and provided a few more resources. But, you had a population already hungry to change the pattern of their lives. That pattern of change was bred, and continued, even now.

“Then the full blast of the state tied to the consciousness of a people declared our children must never go through what we have gone through. Therefore, this whole thing became not only an individual project or family project, but a national project,” the minister added. That right to education means the state must gather enough resources to pay for it, from nursery school to tertiary institutions. Yet, after the 2008 global financial meltdown, the government requested citizens contribute 20 percent of the cost of university education, resulting in significant backlash, according to Jones.

INVESTMENT

“Government has invested about six percent of the gross domestic product of Barbados in education every year, and out of its budget, between 18 to 20 percent every year,” he said. “That is at the same level as countries such the United States and Canada … If we had to count the resources of families into education, it would move to maybe seven percent.”

With a population of about 282,000 - roughly 60,000 students - the presence of a University of the West Indies (UWI) campus in Barbados has helped boost the numbers of those who have achieved tertiary degrees. With the availability of National Development Scholarships for study both at home and abroad, many Barbadians have gone on to the highest levels of education. Although some don’t
return home, they are still counted as proud Barbadians in the diaspora.

“Because of size, we know that we can’t absorb all of our people,” said Jones. “We know that some will not return home. All of that is factored into the process, but they are still Bajans. “We are training Bajans to be global citizens because the work is in a global context. Rihanna would not have been Rihanna simply being in Barbados. Rihanna is now a global citizen representing Barbados extremely well.”

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