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GET REAL: System breaking brains


GET REAL: System breaking brains

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BARBADOS’ GREATEST asset is you, its people.

We are this nation’s greatest resource. Part of our problem is that when it comes to managing and developing people we are not fully evolved out of plantation mode. So, of course, anyone who has an opportunity to escape this post-colonial plantation society will probably bolt fuh de hills like a runaway slave.

A world renowned Barbadian, who is based abroad, is reported to have said to a friend of mine: “My dear, what are you still doing there? Anyone who is any good leaves.” I was disappointed to hear he said that. First, that is some bovine faeces to come out of the mouth of someone who is a kind of national icon.  Second; there may be some truth in the statement.

If you are a top dog in your field, and you hear opportunities dog-whistling from overseas, and recruiters are waving sides of beef at you, you gine stop bout hey to crunch pun imported chicken wings? Especially considering that the prevailing philosophy education here says: “You go to school so you can get a good job and get nuff money.”

With this philosophy, in our own schools is where the brain drain starts, long before anyone leaves the island.  The educational system works like this: “Let’s put as much strain on your brain as possible and see if you can handle it. If by the end of it you are not totally drained of the will to study, consider yourself educated. If you can’t handle it, I ain’t know wuh tuh tell yuh. Go an look fuh sumting tuh do.”

Understand that this is the system not the teachers. Testing is what our system is based around. It tests your ability to take tests. Many teachers have recognised this and have tried to find ways to structure their classes to more thoroughly educate, but the “Test” is still there looming. Nevertheless, I know of many teachers who do an amazing job despite having to operate in an archaic system. It would be great, though, if the teachers’ unions were as vocal about the deficiencies in the system as they are about deficiencies in their salaries. 

The students who manage to thrive in this system would have to be stellar. They would probably have made it in any system. Our system is not superior. What we have is superior access to education and a superior social safety net that takes pressure off children so they can focus. Incidentally, this is the social safety net many advocate dismantling.

The system did not develop them as much as it was a testing ground to sift them out. The ones who just manage to get through may be educated to take tests but not necessarily anything else. When they get on the job, the employer now got educating to do.

The promised reward for successfully passing the test of our educational system is an easy life. If you get the sense that some people at the top don’t care, it could be because they have been taught that they earned the right not to.

Too many “good” students don’t go to school to learn. They go to school to get certificates to show prospective employers. They may be motivated to sweep through the system of tests with as little learning as possible. We have a system of credentialing more so than a system of education.

Today, many jobs require not so much physical labour as mental and emotional labour. Because “people” is all Barbados has, we should be experts in building the cognitive and emotional power of brains. Maybe because we are yet to come to terms with our history, we continue the legacy of breaking brains instead of building them, so we can control the bodies left behind.

If our educational system is doing what it is supposed to, there should be no fear of a brain drain. We would be producing a surplus of high class brains for export. Those brains would not only have been educated academically but socially. They would have built a connection to their homeland that maintains no matter where in the world they roam. The ones who remain would be more than capable.

Instead, what happens is that during our educational process perfectly good brains are manhandled. Instead of the system being flexible enough to fit them, they are forced to fit a narrowly focused system and are damaged in the process. Doan get tie up, the ones that succeed are damaged too. The ones that we call well educated are still a shadow of what they could have been. It is a testimony to our strength and great potential that we do as well as we do today, just as it is a testimony of our strength that we survived enslavement and colonisation.

It may be that the educational system is working exactly as it is supposed to. It may be designed to break minds and spirits to make them easier to control. Maybe this is why the leaders are so slow to change it. Maybe after making it through and benefiting from the elitist educational hierarchy they now want to maintain the advantages they and their children will have over other citizens. Or maybe they just have not been educated to innovate and think any differently.

Of course, great brains flee when they get the chance. They drain away untapped the same way our rain water drains into the sea. Great brains that stay often do not fare well. They end up in a puddle, untreated and ignored. Not allowed to stretch and circulate, they stagnate and become drained. Great brains think differently. This scares a conservative society. A great mind that chooses to stay is unlikely to be fully appreciated. 

We allow great brains to drain away like rain water back to the sea, restrict the flow of the great brains that stay and then we complain of a drought of innovation. Maybe what I call part of the problem is actually part of the plan, not to produce brains for innovation but brains for exploitation.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email [email protected]