IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: An ‘F’ for Jones
EARLY IN MY CAREER as a journalist I was warned to be very judicious with superlatives because quite often attributing such extremes to anyone or anything can’t be justified. By the same token, going in the opposite direction when dealing with negatives can be just as problematic.
Today I will discard this good advice – perhaps to my own peril. I am now absolutely convinced that the Ministry of Education in Barbados today has to be, under its current political leadership, the worst Ministry of Education since I became a journalist in 1979.
And this is after Minister Ronald Jones has spent so far as many years there as Mia Mottley did, surpassed only by the country’s most respected education minister ever, Sir Lloyd Sandiford, who held the post for nine years.
It appears to me that nationally we have embarked on a course of action designed to distinguish our delivery of education services today from what we have done at anytime in our post Independence history, but in the process all we are managing to do is whittle away the gains achieved by both Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party administrations of the past.
I am particularly saddened by the fact that the current education ministry, under Jones’ leadership ever since the Dems came to power in 2008, can point to very little that can distinguish it as forward-thinking and operating on the cutting edge of modern thought.
On the other hand, there is ample evidence of erosion that would be on par with what Dominica experienced last week with Tropical Storm Erika. And nowhere is the evidence more stark than in the state of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies.
There can be no shortage of proud, patriotic Barbadians all over this world cringing at the decline in student enrolment there. Yes, the Government is facing serious financial challenges. Yes, legitimate questions can be asked about some of the decisions taken by the last principal, Sir Hilary Beckles. Yes, it is legitimate to ask whether the university is optimally serving the developmental needs of the country.
But when all the questions have been asked, individually or collectively, they cannot justify the literal state-organised and executed attack on Cave Hill that has left a multitude of academic casualties in its wake. How can any Government talk about promoting development through education and in two years preside over the deliberate plundering of the university’s roll – from just under 10 000 to approximately 5 000?
And it is not that Jones’ ministry was simultaneously involved in some alternative programme that was redirecting these “absent students” and would-be students to other educational opportunities. Nothing so good. Young people are just dropping out of the system, or more properly put, being forced out of the system, without alternative avenues of engagement.
Just last week I engaged in a brief moment of reminiscing on the website of my alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, and look at the phenomenal growth that has taken place there since I left in the 1990s. The physical campus has spread like a California wildfire, the roll has more than doubled and the university is now ranked among the best in the state.
I looked at numbers for universities across the US and smiled at the extent of growth, only to be confronted at the end of the week by the plea from the new principal at Cave Hill, Professor Eudine Barriteau, for Government to rethink the tuition fee policy that decimated her campus – and I add, the spirits of countless young Barbadians.
How can you be a minister of education without interruption for almost eight years and not demonstrate the capacity to confront the crisis with some kind of sensible alternative? And there are alternatives that would not have hurt university enrolment in this manner.
How can you preside over national education policy for eight straight years and all across the region countries are embracing technology at all levels but in Barbados we have regressed even beyond where we were when EduTech was introduced?
How can you be minister of education for eight straight years, come from a background as an educator and head of the largest teachers’ union and your every area of difference virtually escalates into a fight with the same unions and their members?
Just over a week ago this was what Minister Jones had to say to the teachers unions: “You ain’t got to fight and beat me over my head. You don’t have to like me; you just have to work with me. I don’t have to like you at all [but] I will work with you. . . .
“But if you want to fight me and I get vex, I am going to fight you in a way like you have never been fought.”
Now let us all as adults, against that tone, go and lecture our children about peace and reconciliation – about learning to settle differences without resorting to violence.
For eight years our minister of education has ranted and raved about every non-education subject under the sun, with some of the most robust language one would not expect from a leader, but not a word about the future of the Barbados Community College or the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, arguably the two most important tertiary level institutions in Barbados today?
After presiding over the Ministry of Education for eight straight years the Minister of Education declares he is not satisfied with the state of the island’s secondary schools. We must all be missing something because it would have to be the Minister of Agriculture who was looking after those buildings all these years.
I have been intimately involved in education as a reporter since my early days in journalism, dating back to when Walter Burke was permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Billie Miller was the minister and Ralph Boyce was the chief education officer. Not once in all those years under a BLP or DLP minister have I ever seen this ministry appearing so disconnected from education and the aspirations of Barbadians, so adrift.
But perhaps it points to a belief I have held for a long time; that the worst ministers are always those placed in a position to preside over their area of professional competence. Doctors seldom make the best ministers of health because they invariably approach the job with a “know-it-all attitude”. Jones’ performance apparently says the same thing about education.
I will now sit and await the inevitable backlash . . . Alair! Ezra! Please be on standby!