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YOU, ME & CSME: Innovation – the key

by Michelle Cave

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It’s a challenge not only in Barbados or the Caribbean. Retaining the interest of boys in the education systems we have laid down as the way to progress is not working. Girls have somehow kicked in with what I have heard ministers calling “their innate coping mechanisms despite the hurdle . . .” to be overcome. Our boys are not amused though, not taking on the ways of learning by rote, that we so valiantly gift them. For some reason we seem not to grasp that they en masse, are not taking it on. What they are increasingly fascinated with, and are giving their undivided attention to in numbers, we’d hardly believe, is animation. A thousand of them immersed themselves in the pop culture festival and expo last weekend at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. Groups of them trained themselves these past few weeks in ToonBoom workshops sponsored by the National Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, dedicated to hone their artistic and technical skills. Young people aspiring to be graphic artists, character developers, digital painters, colour, lighting and concept artists, background and set designers, storyboarders, art directors, script writers, cinematographers and special effects engineers mingled with those already in the field. It was not hard to see where their passion lay, and it was fulfilling to see their commitment in the long hours of training. Joan Vogelesang, Jamaican CEO of ToonBoom, in the Caribbean partnering with the Barbados Animation Network and Guild, BIMAP, the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, at the invitation of the National Council for Science and Innovation and Invest Barbados, is pre-occupied with the ways in which boys in particular learn, excel, and apply themselves to leadership. She noted throughout the weeks of her stay here that there are many ways of learning. That boys and girls understand differently. Creative thinkers understand and learn and apply techniques very different to linear thinkers. She is sure there is space in the world for all of them. She has worked over the years in fine-tuning curricula that teaches and brings the most out of  children who don’t respond to teaching/ learning by rote especially. Specialising in animation software, ToonBoom Inc. is a Canadian company that has known huge international success and are experts in online business, education and building communities sustainably. They are perhaps most famous for their contracts with Disney, Pixar and the explosive animation boom in India, Brazil and French West Africa, over the past couple of years. They are quick to point out that animation productions require engineers, artists, animators, all sorts of skill sets to pull the entire feature off. These skills can be found in this shrinking world, anywhere that best markets itself as the prime location for said skills. Visiting with the private sector, schools and the public sector while here, Ms Vogelesang outlined how Barbados could create a global competitive edge in the animation industry while building our industry, strengthening our children’s leadership and education capabilities and creating high skill jobs, and so, sought after technical knowledge. In a strategic planning workshop I posed the question: “. . . How can we best attract and maintain the interest of our youth, simultaneously building this industry and producing material, advertisements, packaging, short and feature films, for ourselves, the diaspora and international audiences, in our language, with our culture?”. It was clear that animation had the potential to sell, educate, market, support and create any sector we cared to develop with it. ToonBoom’s CEO was most clear in articulating the answer. She said that in India, China and Brazil, the middle class is growing by 25 per cent each year. Natives in and out of the region are anxious and have a strong desire to see and hear themselves on television, they are desirous of having their children know their culture. Animation is known to facilitate these very well. In these countries, there are strong, wealthy families who are looking to develop and sponsor new industries, to invest in the animation infrastructure. In her closing comments she bemoaned the fact that India’s success in creating an 80 billion dollar industry of animation perhaps rested most on the private sector’s abhorrence of public sector “interference” in innovation, technology, its application in the sectors that were driving the economy. She said there was a lot the Caribbean could learn from these countries in terms of driving this new industry that is fashioning Infotainment, digital communications, 3D productions, special effects and transforming traditional sectors like education. Research and development is linked to innovation which is linked to business and development, increasingly. Whether it is producing local content or going after co-production agreements or outsourcing of major production’s material, the Caribbean is certainly perched ready to launch into this most lucrative field of possibilities.
• Michelle Cave has done her thesis on the regional integration movement.