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EDITORIAL: Funding for schools needs attention

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: Funding for schools needs attention

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AS CHAIRMAN OF The Lodge School’s board of management, Pat Cheltenham has never been given to excesses in his public comments on education matters.

So that when he spoke recently of the financial challenges facing, not only The Lodge, but clearly all the other public secondary schools, it tells us there is need for sober reflection on what is happening in these institutions.

This country’s exalted education system is undeniably facing bleak economic prospects, and we dare say at all levels.

Even before Mr Cheltenham addressed this issue of shortages in various supplies at schools, the teachers’ unions and other school boards have been speaking, even if only in muted whispers, about the dollars and cents hurdles our schools are encountering. The parent-teacher associations know the problems well, given the demands on them.

We could rightly ask: How did it get to this stage? And we may also ask: Who is to blame? But, that would not provide a solution to the prevailing problem nor to the dire outlook which Mr Cheltenham suggests lies ahead. No one wants to accept that the days of free education may be numbered in Barbados.

Given the country’s track record over the past half-century in universal access to education, the gains made over that period must not be allowed to slide, far less disappear. This country must always endeavour to educate all students to high levels. To do otherwise would erode the pride of every Barbadian.

The country’s fiscal problems have undeniably impacted health, social services and now education. We can neither pretend there are not problems nor simply wish them away.

Without doubt, the major challenge education faces is the national budget. The reality is that current and anticipated budget shortfalls will pose serious threats to progress in education at a time when the aim remains high for student achievement and equality of opportunity to ensure more students leave school prepared for college or a career.

The economic challenges also threaten the spending necessary on specialised services such as early childhood education, smaller class sizes, extended school days and summer classes for struggling students and quality teacher training. The need to better utilise education technology and reduce the cost of higher education cannot be underscored in these circumstances.

The financial challenges facing our schools certainly highlight why collaboration will be vital and innovation essential. Making progress to eliminate the deficiencies will require cooperation of Government ministries, educators, unions, PTAs, businesses, students and their families.

The beneficiaries of free education must now help provide workable solutions. Education is simply too critical to our success as individuals and as a nation.