Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Albert Einstein famously declared that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, that while that definition applies to so much that goes on in our little twin island republic that it's not even funny, nowhere does it apply more than to our education system. I know that a lot of people are not going to like me saying it, but our education system sucks ... all the way from the primary schools right up to the University of the West Indies and back down again.

Let's start with UWI first: once upon a time when UWI was the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture it enjoyed a world-class, first class reputation. Today, UWI ranks near the bottom of any list of universities and does not appear anywhere on any list of the world's top universities. Don't believe me? Take any discipline ...say, economics ... and have two young graduates applying for the same job ... one from UWI and the other from, say, Harvard. Guess who is going to get the job? I don't think I need to go further: UWI is not a first class school and it could be and should be. Heck, it's not even a second class school!

And as for our so-called "prestige schools", well they are anything but prestigious and it is nothing short of a miracle that some students not only graduate, but are bright enough to go on to first class universities and make their mark on a fast paced and rapidly changing world that is happily leaving us as a country way behind.

But officials in the Ministry of Education continue to tinker with an inadequate, out-moded, out dated, inefficient system and absolutely refuse to consider that the system is way past its "use by" date. The other day I met one of these Ministry boffins who vigorously defended the system, so I asked him "if I blew up the education system this afternoon so that there was absolutely nothing left and you had to start from the beginning, would you put back the exact same system?" He answered honestly before he realized the trap that he wouldn't, which, of course, is exactly my point. If you would put in a completely different system if the old one was completely blown up, then why don't we put in a new one now? And we don't have to blow up the old system, just put in the new one and phase out the old one gradually.

A lot of our problems in this country begin with the failing/failed education system. And part of the reasons that the system is failing is because we simply refuse as a society to pay our teachers a proper wage. The result is that the teachers don't teach in the classrooms, but force parents to hire them to give private lessons to the children. The result is that just about every child that takes the SEA exams or what used to be called 'O' Levels and 'A' Levels in my day are now forced to have their parents hire teachers for extra lessons. If they don't, except for the very bright kids, you can guarantee that the kids will fail.

Now, another question: if the system and the schools are so good, why does just about every child who hopes to pass the requisite exams have to take extra lessons? In other first world countries extra lessons are not needed for the vast majority of students! So, why are they a way of life here if the system is so good?

I could go on almost forever on this subject, but hopefully you have got the point. Fixing the education system will ultimately fix most of our problems. Don't fix it and I can guarantee that the problems will not only continue but will get worse. And, yes, I do have ideas on how we might fix the system besides paying the teachers a proper salary. I'll share those ideas in another post. But before I get there we should all be on the same page, which is agreement that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. Once we have agreement on that fundamental point we can then discuss ideas on how we might fix it.

Oh! And by the way, while I do have ideas on how to fix things, I certainly don't hold my ideas out as the only ideas or the only way to do things. The purpose of this post is to try and get as many as possible to recognize the problem and begin thinking of ways to fix it; because one thing is certain: the system is broken!

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