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THE PRAISE SHOWERED on the winners of this year’s Barbados Scholarships and Exhibitions is thoroughly deserved. And the joy surrounding those who have excelled in both the CAPE and Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations is very much in order too.
The outstanding performances are the result of both their hard work and a desire for personal achievement. At the same time, it is a good assurance for this country to have a corps of talented young people who can take it forward.
Some of these academically outstanding youth will make the world their community on completion of their studies, but Barbados’ name will be the beneficiary wherever they reap success. So while some of this island’s best brains may go elsewhere, the seeming brain drain need not be a worry.
The challenge is to embrace the majority who will not be high-flyers but whose contributions are critical to this country’s progress. If only a fraction of the public acclaim offered those who excel at 11-Plus, then at CSEC, and for the Barbados Scholarships and Exhibitions winners is showered on others overlooked, then the Ministry of Education would be sending an important message.
Serious attention must be given not only to those who excel and are headed to university but also to those who fall through the cracks at the various stages; and to the many who are competitive but are simply overlooked.
We speak of the need to be high in our praise for those outstanding students in the technical and vocational areas, whether the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic or the Barbados Community College. Take the case of the culinary arts students: we cannot speak to their importance and yet virtually ignore their performances, especially when outstanding.
But even before we seek to redress the imbalances, our attention must be directed towards that very large number of students who leave school every year, after five years of secondary education, without any kind of certification, and often ill-equipped for a highly competitive world of work. There can be no “up and out” approach for many unable to navigate the existing educational system.
It makes little sense to boast of an educational system where students merely walk through the doors of secondary schools and come out worse than when they entered. Our system must not be one where only the very bright or those with the parental and financial support excel at school and are guaranteed success.
While many of those in secondary schools will never be college bound, the solutions must include partnerships with the business sector and non-profit organisations. We must stem the dropout crisis.
That is why our educational system will have to undergo major changes in an effort to get it right. The weaknesses are too glaring and the cost too high – both financially and socially. Investment in education is all about the country’s wealth and health. No one must be left behind.