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EDITORIAL: The price of education

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: The price of education

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Within recent times there has been serious discussion concerning the provision of free tertiary level education to all qualified Barbadians willing to go to the local campus of the University of the West Indies.
It has been a heated debate, but it is not new, since Dr Leonard Shorey had far-sightedly raised the issue almost a decade ago in his weekly columns.  
There are few issues in this island that are as sensitive as the issue of education. Ever since the abolition of slavery, education has been seen as one of the most important tools of upward social mobility, and many a tale has been told of parents who have sacrificed all in ensuring that their children received a good education.
Exactly half a century ago, universal free secondary education became a reality, thereby entrenching education as a major social initiative that characterized the successful campaign of the Democratic Labour Party victory, and some three years later in 1964, the establishment of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies brought free tertiary level education home to Barbadians.
It is a sign of the times that the debate has caught fire again, but economic difficulties will bring in their wake the challenge of cutting and contriving in the public interest.
Moreover, the upward march of the society will cause policymakers to re-examine the social needs of the island, given its limited revenue base and the redirection of social safety nets towards those most vulnerable to the vagaries of poverty and deprivation.
Addressing the 38th graduation ceremony of the Barbados Community College recently, Prime Minister Stuart let it be known that tertiary level education would remain free across the board, and he dismissed any suggestions that only the less well off should receive state subsidies.
Whatever else may have been said or hinted at by other policymakers within his Cabinet, the Prime Minister has spoken, and one anticipates that barring some cataclysmic occurrence, the free education policy will not be changed. And yet it remains a serious issue for debate.
As the country emerged from the clutches of the dire colonial experience, our educational policy since 1961 has immeasurably enhanced and driven the enrichment of our social capital and enabled the great national move forward.
But two generations removed from the brutal poverty of pre-Independence days, some Barbadians may be able to fund the education of their children, especially if the state shares the cost through a scheme of tax incentives.
Free tertiary education may be the ideal, but economic realities may dictate periodic revisiting of the policy.