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looking at our school population

Anthony Griffith

looking at our school population

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One of the critical ingredients in educational planning relates to the trends and projections in the school age population for which all the planning is intended. Hence, a word here about the population equation.
The Barbadian population at present, according to the United Nations Population 2010 Prospects, is about 274 000, – up from about 268 000 in the year 2000. Projected to change at the rate of about 0.2 per cent for the next ten years and with a crude birth rate of 10.9 per 1 000 persons, the population will be about 280 000 in 2020.  
It is then expected to level off at about 281 000 between 2025 and 2030; and thereafter it will begin a steady, though gradual decline back to 275 000 by 2040, and to 262 000 in 2050.  This decline is all thanks to a projected negative growth rate of minus 0.4 per cent, and a crude birth rate of less than 10.0 per 1000.  By the year 2060, the Barbadian population is expected to be hovering around 253 000, – close to what it was in 1980. (See graph)
In the interim, the population will age significantly. While in 2010, the number of persons in the over-65 age group accounted for 11 per cent of the population, this percentage will rise to about 14.6 in 2020, and then further inflate to some 20.6 per cent by 2030.  
By the year 2050, the aged population (65+) will make up about 25.6 per cent of the population, – more than doubling over the preceding 40 years. Over that period as well, the life expectancy at birth is projected to increase from 73.9 years to 77.9 for males, and from 80.3 years to 83.7 for females.
Meanwhile, the school age population – taken here as those between five and 19 years old – will also reflect these trends in the rest of the population. In 2000, the school age population numbered about 56 088, consisting of 28 267 male students and 27 821 females. By 2010, the school population had dropped to about 54 000 – with male and female students in approximately the same proportion.  This number is projected to fall further to a total of about 45 000 students by the year 2020, and to about 42 000 in 2030.
The numbers are projected to level off there, before declining further to about 40 000 by the year 2050.  
Of particular note is that the decline in the school age population is inversely related to the growth in the old age population.  In fact, as of 2025, there will be more senior citizens in Barbados than there are schoolchildren! This will clearly have serious implications for such things as demands on social services and NIS pensions, and the growing market for specialized goods and services for senior citizens.
This projected data indicates that our school age population is already declining, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, as the graph indicates. This, in turn, will impact on virtually all of the inputs relating to the schooling enterprise.
Firstly, a contracting school population signals the potential decrease in demand for school places and also for additional school buildings. It also suggests that more attention and resources need to be directed towards the renovation of existing buildings and, most importantly, on upgrading and modernizing the facilities in these buildings.  
Many of the existing school buildings, as well as school administrators (both primary and secondary), are crying out for such improvements and upgradings.
The point being made here is that, with the  school population projected to be in decline for the foreseeable future, there is a strong case to be made for shifting the focus in educational planning somewhat: to being less about “quantity” (providing enough school places and buildings) and more deliberatively about “quality” (enriching the learning environment).
This shift in focus, it is suggested, is critical in preparing our youth to better take advantage of the unfolding knowledge revolution a nd to meet and negotiate the national challenges ahead.
• Anthony Griffith is a former Senior Lecturer in Education, UWI, Cave Hill.
(Part II continues in next week’s Daily Nation)
The Nette Effect column returns in two months.