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Education reform for economic growth


Education reform for economic growth

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Globalisation has increased competition in world economies and transcended educational systems across the globe – Sahlberg, 2006.

An analysis of Finland and Singapore – two countries with renowned educational systems, would indicate high levels of productivity and strong economies.

Although there are a number of factors at play, the exploitation of talent and technology within these countries has been vital to the viability of their knowledge-based economy (KBE).

A knowledge-based economy is a system of consumption and production based on intellectual capital, providing services, which can be exported or harnessed locally to provide foreign direct investment. The World Bank defines KBEs by: 1) institutional structures that provide incentives for entrepreneurship, 2) availability of skilled labour, 3) information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure and 4) a vibrant innovative environment that includes academia, private sector and civil society.

Singapore’s government recognised that to compensate for the country’s size and population disadvantage, it needed to develop a highly efficient and productive infrastructure to reduce production costs and attract foreign investors.

It formulated a policy called the Global Schoolhouse that invested in world-class universities to establish operations in Singapore and remodelled all levels of their education systems incorporating technology, where well educated citizens could relocate themselves to exploit opportunities.

Today, Singapore boasts a highly educated workforce and the island has moved away from labour-intensive production into technology and innovative fields with over 5 000 foreign companies and financial institutions (Sidhu, 2008).

Similarly, Finland has become a leading innovative knowledge-based economy in the 21st century. Confronted with structural deficiencies in their economy in the 1990s, there was a concerted effort by policymakers to correct these deficiencies through the promotion of education reform with ICTs at the foundation.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that these countries are highly renowned for their economic development and educational accolades (Dahlman et al. 2016).

Recognising that successful economies compete on the basis of high value, the Mottley-led administration is apparently embracing the high value principle.

Hargreaves (2003) says that high value is best guaranteed by well trained, educated personnel and flexible lifelong learning opportunities for all citizens. This contention is supported by the administration’s aim to re-engineer citizens’ skill sets through retooling and retraining as part of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation Programme (BERT).

Such initiatives are timely, especially in a technological era, where the skills required for modern employment are rapidly evolving and Barbados, as well as the wider Caribbean region, has been slow to adapt. In fact, according to a report published by World Economic Forum, one in four adults has a mismatch between the skills they have and the skills needed for their job.

With extremely limited land mass, tourism challenges and an inability to compete globally in manufacturing, Barbados should consider the knowledge-based economy as its most valuable approach to the future. 

Subsequently, to develop such an economy, educational reform ought to focus on the digital development as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Additionally, we must emphasise the development of interpersonal and business enhancing skills that include the proliferation of multilingual citizens. Further, all educational programmes ought to be certified by world recognised professional bodies, as these grant citizens the opportunity to achieve professional designations to exploit overseas markets.

Although these reforms will encounter some challenges, Barbados is well positioned, thanks to University of the West Indies (UWI) Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles’ foresight of a “one graduate per household” policy.

University graduates possess the intellectual capacity and many of the skill sets that if redirected can provide the basis for the advancement of an ICT infrastructure.

Finally, for Barbados to once again punch above its weight, Government must provide incentives for entrepreneurs and foster greater collaboration with the private sector and academic institutions, along with civil society, to create innovative business solutions.

Chad Monerville is a graduate of UWI, St Augustine. Chad advocates for quality education and climate action with experience across Latin America, North America and Asia.