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Thursday, January 19, 2006 

Current Issues & Concerns
Thursday January 19 2006

The Master Plan

Commentar by Ronald Maginley

On Tuesday morning I listened to a radio discussion on education within Antigua & Barbuda.
Starting with the recently announced competing School of Nurses and the proposed School of Excellence, the debate ranged widely.

While the usual anti-Stanford rhetoric could be heard, a number of interesting points were raised in relation to our country’s development and the role of education in it.

In considering the issue of education, we can look to the example of Cuba.
As the largest of the Caribbean islands, lying just 90 miles off the Florida Keys, Cuba was ruled by Batista until 1959.

With a disenfranchised and impoverished population, the revolution was about the empowerment of the masses.

In terms of that country’s development, as far as this article is concerned, the country, at the time of the revolution, was burdened by an illiteracy rate of 43 per cent.

In articulating a vision for the country and ignoring how the revolution eventually evolved, Castro’s first major reforms of the economy are important to note.

According to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, the early days of the revolution are described as one in which; “the first policies by the newly formed Cuban government was eliminating illiteracy, [and] implementing land reforms.”

The Cuban government, in a similar manner to the Asian Tiger economies, saw the creation of a knowledge based society, as being critical to their development.

With this goal in mind, the country’s resources were focused on educating its people to international standards, sufficient to allow them a competitive advantage in a global economy.
Bearing in mind these points, I find that I am disturbed as I reflect on recent developments within our schools.

I seem to recall that, in response to an article in the Daily Observer about the budget’s allocation for education, the minister of education called for understanding.

The Cricket World Cup 2007 would demand much of the government’s financial and technical resources over the next 16 months he said.

With cricket playing an important role in the governments “feel good” strategy, education and its demands would be relegated to the outfield.

We can all recall that last year’s school results were the worst on record. Our school system, and by extension we, as parents, are clearly failing our children.

Our education standards, once one of our proudest achievements, are now in tatters. This situation is compounded, or should I say clarified by ministry officials, when it is assumed that private schools are the only institutions where a proper education can be assured.

I am perturbed when, in light of the crisis in our school system, we all find it very reasonable to spend US$60m on a white elephant stadium, but find it unreasonable to spend EC$10m on our schools.

We are happy to prioritise a car park on St. John’s only green space area, but find it impossible to provide similar funds for the upgrading of our teachers’ qualifications.

A school, according to a front page article in yesterday’s Antigua Sun, shows children playing around puddles of raw sewage.

Perhaps they were simply bored while waiting for the school meal programme to start. I still don’t know however, where the sewage fits into all of this.

We should all be absolutely ashamed that our schools, and our children, the foundation on which our country will continue to be developed, are relegated to the dustbin of history, before their lives have even begun.

A land of opportunity, and what should be plenty, is reduced to one where a basic education is dependent on the wealth of parents and on foreign aid.

On the aforementioned programme, there was talk about the necessity for a master plan for education.

While I agree that our schools’ crisis needs to be addressed by us all, I believe that the caller who proposed a master plan has got the wrong end of the stick.

A master plan is simply the articulation of a holistic vision of our country, its people, and its role and function within a global economy.

With such a vision, the government, and we as a country, must examine critical components and make a determination on the role and function of each as a contributor to the realisation of a predetermined goal.
For example, if we say that our economy will be based on the financial and service sectors, then our school system should be focused on the production of university graduates with the required qualifications.

Another example is that, if we had determined that manufacturing would form the basis for our future economic growth, our education system should focus on the development of technical schools.

These examples attempt to demonstrate that our support and enabling structures are determined by the country’s master plan and not the other way around.

While it is difficult to talk in terms of absolutes, recent history has showed that countries that prioritise education as a critical component in its development, have been successful.
The creation of a knowledge based society is a requirement if we are to ensure our country’s continued development.

In listening to what information is publicly available about the School of Excellence, I must say that it is a noble effort on the part of Mr. Stanford.

Once completed, it promises to be an important component in the provision of universal access to education.

However, for the very reasons that the school should be supported, I also find that its necessity should also be condemned.

I see no reason why such a private sector initiative for the provision of such a tertiary institution, as this school, is necessary.
The establishment of a school for almost one third of our school population, is a damning indictment on the state of our public school system.

In my opinion, Mr. Stanford’s noble endeavour is a mark of shame to us as Antiguans and Barbudans.

His actions are testament that we cannot, or will not allocate appropriate funds to the development and support of our own children.

Our government and we, as a people, should be doing what he is proposing.
We, in the year of our jubilee independence, remain a society that prefers to beg, cap in hand, for investment in our children’s education.

It would seem by their actions that our government is prepared to invest in paying for empty airline seats at the expense of our children and our futures.

Our children are our future.

The above opinions are not necessarily those of the publisher, newspaper, its advertisers or employees. You may write to Ronald Maginley c/o editor@antiguasun.com
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