Education Minister Dr Tim Goopeesingh asked a pertinent question this week—“Do we know where we are taking this country?”—at the launch of a new education initiative. He made the point that he wants us to imagine our students graduating at 23 years with a PhD while proposing a fundamental reduction in early childhood education.
Simultaneously, Minister Karim announced the launch of the expected move of COSTAATT (College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts) to Chaguanas. These statements, taken together, are problematic.
An advanced university degree appears to be the desired output of our education system, which aligns with the goal to have a 60 per cent participation rate in tertiary education. COSTAATT is the single largest institution, accounting for 20 per cent of total enrolment. So we are witnessing a seismic change passing unremarked, except for the editorial comment that the faculty was in agreement.
Our largest challenge now is a major drop-out problem and disengagement issue in our schools. Over 17,000 pupils enter primary school annually, with only 2,100 pupils passing more than three CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) subjects. Twelve per cent of tertiary students fail. Our primary schools are underperforming. School violence and indiscipline are now epidemic. But GATE (Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme) expenditure has moved from $102 million to $650 million, from 2005 to 2011. We may wish to look at our $12 million COSTAATT rent in this context.
The cost to get one productive graduate is astronomical; the inability hinders the nation from achieving full potential. A national crisis looms because of our school system: failure here erupts in our crime statistics, and we spend more than $6 billion annually in national security.
Education takes us into a future we cannot grasp fully. The world is changing fast and our oil/gas revenue base is at risk. The child who enters pre-school now will be 23 years in 2032:
• What world will he go into?
• What needs are we preparing for?
• Is a PhD the ultimate destination?
• Are we going to be content with a handful of such graduates and the exclusion of many?
• Do we need to build the campus at all?
• What kind of country will we have, to provide the climate in which students can prosper?
Finland has been cited as an education exemplar, they have no drop-outs. Have we looked at that model? The key elements in modern systems are individualised attention to students, higher status for teachers and a lack of “command and control”, centralised educational policy.
• Are we moving in that direction?
• Are we encouraging our children to be curious and life-long learners?
• Are our teachers embracing technology?
• How does the big building in Chaguanas fit with the model of online teaching?
• How are the laptop and telecommunications initiatives linked into our education capital allocations?
• How could we not pay attention and spend time on the quality of nurturing in early childhood education and still expect to get sterling performances?
• How do we tie our education system into our creative output?
How does it develop our ability to be competitive when the oil runs out?
Dr Goopeesingh asked the right question but neither he nor his fellow minister seem to know the right answer, and so we all are in a large unironed khaki pants. “Sans Humanite!” is our battle cry.