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Urgent need for education reform

rhondathompson, [email protected]

Urgent need for education reform

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IF THERE IS ONE THING recent public discussion has shown, it is that Barbadians are still passionate about education. But this debate must move beyond the pros and cons of students’ entitlement to free tertiary education to the ability of our education system to meet 21st century needs. Education reform is, therefore, the urgent need.
 Reform must start by removing the inefficient fragmentation in the agencies responsible for education, training and human resource development. From technical and vocational education and training to the preparation of our law enforcers and the training of workers in commerce and industry, the programmes are scattered. Would it not make better sense to have them all under one Government department?
Also, any serious change in education must of necessity aim to provide an environment in which students can thrive and achieve. Consequently, comments by some secondary teachers expressing the desire to see failing students out of the school system on reaching their 16th birthday are, at the very least, injudicious.
Our education system must ensure that no one is left behind, and this requires effective programmes to cater to students beyond school-leaving age.
Greater emphasis must be placed on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects, which are producing the majority of high-end jobs worldwide in the new economy. Technology must feature significantly in the imparting of knowledge.
The individualistic approach must give way to creative thinking and problem-solving in groups. We need to build leadership and teamwork while requiring our students to engage more in community service and volunteerism.
 A reformed system must ensure that we produce students who can deal with issues such as integrity and ethical decision-making. Proficiency in speech and writing must be seen as essentials for the world of today and tomorrow.
We cannot only talk about a multilingual society; we must act to ensure that it becomes a reality, with schools undertaking exchange programmes and having meaningful linkages with international counterparts.
 Outdoor education, from sports to practical agriculture and the environment, must be maintained and expanded.
 Undoubtedly, we need to invest in education at all levels in Barbados. This is critical to our efforts to boost productivity and widen opportunities. But we will get meaningful results only when there is genuine reform of the existing system. The Ministry of Education cannot play ostrich, but must lead the charge. In all this there must be both transparency and public accountability. Achieving those will require other kinds of reform. An ever-changing world won’t wait on us.