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IN THE CANDID CORNER: Sixth-form bandwagon

Matthew Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER: Sixth-form bandwagon

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“With the challenges the world is facing today in our global economy . . . in social issues, the need for creative ideas has never been greater.” – Sir Ken Robinson, creativity expert.
There is a sixth form bandwagon traversing the educational landscape at an increasingly high speed. Correspondingly, there is a mad rush among many of our secondary schools not to allow the wagon to pass them by. Arguably, there is a dire need for common sense and reason to prevail and a number of searching questions must be asked and answered.
The first question that must be asked is: what are the implications for the flagship of sixth-form education, the Barbados Community College? Are there still plans to move this institution to a level where it will assume university status? Is it a question of capacity? What is the extent of the need for sixth-form education in Barbados?
What percentage of the secondary cohort is interested in pursuing education at the sixth-form level? Will this emerging trend tip the scales further in favour of academic as opposed to technical and vocational education? Isn’t there a greater need to extend the latter? What kinds of sixth-form education will be provided? How will the recently introduced Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competency (CCSLC) dovetail with this expansion in educational provisions at the sixth-form level? I strongly contend that serious analysis must be brought to bear on this issue which must be taken beyond the “ask and it shall be given” mentality.
Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert, has drawn the world’s attention to the fact that many university graduates around the globe will not find work in the area in which they studied. It is his insistence that changes in the job market globally are forcing many individuals toward creating their own employment opportunities rather than relying on governments and the private sector to provide traditional jobs.
A few decades ago, there was a mad rush toward the informatics sector and information and communications technology was driving the global job market. This sector is not only amazingly dynamic but there is a measure of saturation that is obvious. So there is a sense in which we are always playing catch-up. The reality is that many of the jobs for which we are currently preparing our youth will be obsolete in the coming years. To the extent that sixth-form education in Barbados is overwhelmingly academic, this move to give every school that asks for sixth form is ill-conceived and will produce more frustrated and unemployable youth whose expectations for a certain kind of job will never be met.
When this is put alongside the plan to have a graduate in every household, we are going to have a lot of well-qualified graduates with impressive credentials but for whom the joy of a job will continue to be an elusive dream.
In his column Forum On Education, educator Mr Anthony Griffith raised a similar concern regarding the increase in the number of sixth-form schools and queried what had become of the vision for the University College of Barbados. As he put it: “More sixth form schools, though laudable, essentially mean ‘more of the same’, and a wider path to UWI.” Mr Griffith is proposing a university of technology offering full degree programmes in a variety of technical, vocational and scientific areas. It is his view that this holds “promise of something different and innovative, and different paths in the development of essential skills, expertise and more creative thinking”. (DAILY NATION, July 9, 2013.) 
It is not my intention to jump on the sixth form bandwagon. If the ministry insists, well, so be it. It would be my preference to have facilities to accommodate a wider range of entrepreneurial, technical and vocational skills, along with tailoring, small engine repairs and so on. My students who are keen to pursue an academic career are already feeding into the existing sixth form stream. I am not myself convinced that any real meaningful purpose will be served in giving every school that wishes or asks sixth form status. In a country with limited resources and one which has just dismantled a key component of the free tertiary education portfolio, it is difficult to rationalize the unnecessary, wasteful duplication of sixth form educational facilities.
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education, and a social commentator.

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