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Education scapegoat

Tennyson Joseph

Education scapegoat

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The Cabinet members have had 65 years of free publicly-funded tertiary education… and I do not believe for one moment that a collection of men and women who had… free public-funded tertiary education at UWI, will in any way, do anything to prevent others from having the same. – Professor Hilary Beckles
AS THE DATE of the 2013 Budget in Barbados approaches, it should come as no surprise if one of the first casualities of economic austerity is the access to education to which the Barbadian population has grown accustomed.  
True to historical form, uppermost among the recommendations in the private sector grouping’s policy advice to Government, was the need for stricter entry level requirements for students seeking admission to the University of the West Indies.  In addition, given the obviously high proportion of the annual budget devoted to education, it is a natural prime candidate for cutting in the eyes of those who see education as a cost, rather than an investment in growth and development.
In this debate on education, it must never be forgotten that the Caribbean region was never seen as a place for the intellectual and spiritual development of the forcefully imported population.  “Everything was imported except books.” is the way one observer described the region.  The brothel, rather than the library, was the source of relaxation for the local monied group, while the majority population was valued only as a source of labour.  
We must never assume that these historical realities have magically vanished with the passage of time, and thus the historically exploited population should be on high alert when traditionally anti-intellectual business persons pronounce on education policy.  
The essential problem with the idea of raising the admission requirements to university is that it simply shifts the blame of failure from public officials to students.  In other words, whilst it is governments (and the economic system) which are failing in their social responsibilities to provide access to an education-hungry population, the calls for new entry requirements are designed to make the students feel like failures.  
The problem lies in the cost of education, not the quality of the qualifications.  It is also an old elitist instinct to lament the fact that every Sambo has a degree.
It is a sad irony that many ruling officials proud of their lower-second degrees would now be pronouncing on the “decline in quality” of a new generation of graduates whose intellectual starting points, tech-savvy existences, and global exposure place them miles ahead of the earlier, now disdainful alumni.
The most basic understanding of politics is that it is about “who gets what, when and how”. Those with power have already decided that subsidizing empty airlines and struggling hotels is better than providing tertiary education to the deserving.  
Fine! But we had better prepare for the social cost of policing the disaffected.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]