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Schols, Exhibs and de real t’ing

Sherwyn Walters

Schols, Exhibs and de real t’ing

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GAINING A BARBADOS SCHOLARSHIP OR EXHIBITION is no nay-nay achievement. It should not be undervalued.
I applaud the 24 boys and girls who set themselves goals, worked hard, sacrificed a great deal and did well enough to be recently awarded the supreme trophies of school effort in Barbados.
But several things threaten to compromise our Scholarship and Exhibition winners –
 and, through them, prospects for a better society. And these things have to do with messages sent – or not sent – by the society itself.
Firstly, they are sent a message, with little divergence, that they have arrived somewhere – as opposed to having done well in something that has passed. It gone. It done.
Not enough is done to strongly socialize our outstanding students into the deep apprehension that they are now, in fact, at another take-off point, that truly consequential real-world achievement still awaits. This is not to downplay their efforts so far but to help them to soberly distinguish school success from more critical success.
Unfortunately, passing for Harrison College at 11, getting a Barbados Scholarship or Exhibition, getting a degree (whether Bachelor’s, Master’s or doctorate) are greeted here with a virtual sculpting of the moment, without the requisite regard for the future.
These attainments are seen largely as reason enough to forever elevate certain people, who – in contrast to, say, sportsmen, like our own Oba and even Usain Bolt before the last Olympics, and journalists, who know that they are only as good as the story they are working on – are not held unrelentingly to continued sterling achievement.
Also, these high attaining students exist in an environment in which education has never been securely tied to anything other than individual advancement. Never to lofty essences like creative thinking, solving society’s problems, community-mindedness.
Not too many people ask: “What became of all of those Barbados Scholars and Exhibition winners?” But, both for their sakes and for ours, we should frequently enquire, where is the special flowering for the society’s benefit of all those people that we treated like superior beings? Where is the distinctive value-added?
Where is the integrative, transcendent pay off that our fuss must have promised? Do these people come back and sparkle in their interventions into the society’s life?
These are reasonable concerns. After all, what is the point of talking about “brightness” and heralding their success as the centrepiece of our educational efforts if we should expect no more of them than anyone else?
Regrettably, in this supposedly most educated of Caribbean countries, education seems to be about giving you the chance to say you went to such and such a school or have this degree or that one – but is to have no uncommon societal benefit.
We focus on marks, not on making a mark. On grades, not on graduating to tackle society’s pressing problems. On passes, not on passing on something valuable to others. On being seen as a pro, not on pro bono work. On honours, not on honouring your debt to the society that so well paved the way for you to achieve academic success.
But if we don’t connect the beneficiaries of our education dollars to community, to some special engagement of the future, but to some vague, unfocused notion (of, say, a graduate in every household), we give them latitude to repay goodness with selfishness and mendicancy and “gimme more” rather than with “I owe, I owe . . .”.
I say to our Scholarship winners and Exhibitioners, drink not of that poisoned water.
Instead, I advise you to drink deeply of the water from the Pierian Spring – for to fail so to do is to fall into yet another Barbadian snare.
Alexander Pope in his poem Essay On Criticism penned: A little learning is a dang’rous thing; / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: / There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, / And drinking largely sobers us again.
For all our boasts about a “fine” education system, one does not often enough come across people who give evidence of any further study outside of school or university contexts unless it is required in their specific field of endeavour.
It seems that in Barbados you often graduate to aliteracy and a distaste for deliberate unceasing learning. Studying, it seems, is a past tense activity – “I studied” – and also partitioned from normal, everyday life.
Barbados Scholars and Exhibitioners, congrats. As you go on to university and to life beyond that, remember that those passes are in the past. Barbados’ future awaits you.
  Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]