PEP COLUMN: In defence of ‘free’ education
In the interest of clarity of understanding we should begin by noting that the phrase “free education” is a misnomer. Education is never “free” since the educational system of every nation is paid for by the society of that nation.
When, as in Barbados, Government bears the cost of education, it is in fact requiring all taxpayers to contribute to the cost of education, rather than allowing the financial burden to fall exclusively on the young students and their families.
And this is how it should be, for the society has a vested interest in ensuring that as many of its members are educated and trained. As the level of education and training rises in a society, the entire society benefits from the increase in productivity, growth, cultural refinement and development.
Since every citizen and resident of Barbados benefits from the education of our youth, it is entirely appropriate that the cost of education be shared across the population.
This view of education also dovetails with the notion that education is a fundamental human right and a civil right that is located at the very foundation of the social contract upon which our society is founded.
If we subscribe to a philosophy in which the human being is seen as a special creature made in the image of the Almighty and distinguished from the lower creatures by the possession of a God-given capacity for cognition and mental creativity, then it will occur to us that every human society bears a responsibility to nurture and develop that divine intellectual gift.
Thus, the education of the young cannot be dependent on an individual family or personal wealth – this must be guaranteed through a system of so-called “free education”.
But along with the philosophical justifications for free primary, secondary and tertiary education in Barbados, comes an empirical justification. The reality is that the system of “free education” has served Barbados well! Our country has grown and developed because of this policy, and has been able to attain a quality of social equality and stability that is the envy of many nations.
A few years ago, Professor E. Nigel Harris, the current vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, sought to urge Barbados to follow the example of Jamaica in requiring its young citizens to bear the financial costs of their tertiary education at the university. But Professor Harris was forced to admit the socially destructive and evil consequences of the Jamaican system when he admitted that there are Jamaican students, who, saddled with the burden of university fees, “are near starvation because they don’t have the funding on which to live”.
We also have the example of the United States in which the best and most prestigious “Ivy League” tertiary education is reserved for the wealthy and privileged, and in which poorer students graduate from university with tremendous financial debts.
This is not the Barbadian way! The Barbadian model of “free education” exemplifies the most advanced and elevated human and social values, and is also a practical success story. Let us ensure that we defend and maintain it.
• The PEP column represents the views of the People’s Empowerment Party.