By Yvonne Reynolds 

WANTED:Ethical, Creative, Critical Thinking Civil Servants

For immediate hireExceptional analysts to create programs that enhance and/or catalyze nation-building, catapult citizenry empowerment, and enable long-term micro and macro sustainable economic growth.

Education issues definitely do not make head-turning, headliner media. They are as boring as the classroom teaching we endured. We, today’s adults, are so done with classroom learning. “Education” is for future s****** takeholders – not us (we cry). We, the grown-ups from a self-promoting, “me first” generation, think mostly in present tense. We, the politically powerful workers, are demandingly screaming for attention to ourissues – “it’s our time now”. The young – our children – don’t vote, are legally barred from decision-making and exist only as reliant subjects. Seen, not heard, ignored. Welcome to the tragedy of the commons.

Breaking News! Parental adults are both de facto advocates for this vulnerable youth group, and, de jure payers for their development, (tax-payers) underwriting education policies and programs decided upon by current politicians. We adults, seem to be wandering in the desert of cluelessness and the joke is on us. Most of us hope to be still alive in the near future. We will be co-existing with the now grownup youth on whom we will now rely to ensure (continued) prosperity and security. They will build on the foundation we created. The educational strength of the foundation we chose for them may come back to haunt us all.

Throughout the world, young people are waking up to the stark reality that they need to be, existentially, at the table. Their issues must also be considered by the current adult generation. They depend on the expertise and wisdom (creative and critical thinking skills) of adult decision-makers. Youth want to see new thinking and new ideas for a new age – after all, they say, it is their livelihood at stake.

The youth seek biblical Joshuas not miracle-seeking Moses, to get them into the promised land. Long-term strategic planning which recognizes our youth as a vital integral input to sustained national growth and development is an imperative. Adults, its not just about you. Placing youth issues on the political agenda is the hallmark of forward thinking leaders.

Providing for present and future national general welfare

Government revenues provide collective common goods (health, education, housing, transportation, utilities, infrastructure, security, etc.). Public policies build the network of programs on which society runs and grows. Taxes should be considered as investments, deposited into hedge funds (government departments) managed by smart, innovative overseers (civil servants and politicians) who maximize returns and minimize risks. Accountability is no longer an unenforceable salesman’s pitch, satiating the un-discerning and unlearned, trusting client.

Today, President Reagan’s “trust but verify” dominates, with voice, action and exit – preferred client choices for non-compliance or failure. Education is the food fueling human development. The quality, quantity and access, of and to, education determines a nation’s rate of growth. Education shapes the skeletal framework for market activity, forms the organs of social capital and engages our economic brain managing the diversified integration of technology innovation. Education is the pheromone luring businesses to relocate to an educated workforce.

Decisions made within the Ministry of Education directly impact the nation. Current policies will have great influence over a long period of time, on micro and macro finances, market interactivity and citizenry well-being. These future tense decisions linger for generations – with no discernible expiration date. Mistakes get compounded year upon year, enabling a slow boiling instability pushing citizens and residents into accelerated flight from the high taxes and debt servicing imposed, to compensate for increasing deficits. The newly minted majority will be fit only for Taylorite, low-skilled, low wage, no benefits, transitory jobs.

In prior articlesI addressed the portending problem with the ebooks’ (K-12)program implementation and I also began a discussion pertaining to questions that should be considered in the current decision-making process for signing an agreement with UWI to locate a fourth landed campus on the twin islands. Both deal with education choices. One comprise a group of mostly non-voters and the second is populated by people who see through the dark glasses of myopic sentimentality cloaked in cultural heritage.

For the past few years, A&B’s Ministry of Education has been either first or second in line for budget allocations. All citizens, residents and even the diaspora, who send their hard earned remittances, should be concerned about program efficiency, effectiveness and evaluative performance. Direct, indirect, and non tax revenues are divided up by ministries and departments. We cannot afford expensive mistakes that do not produce measurable results, draining finite revenue resources from other departments deserving welfare enhancing programs.

In Antigua and Barbuda,(A&B) there are two known, current, priority education issues, atop the political agenda, which will undeniably affect (negatively or positively) the trajectory of future comprehensive economic activity; the relationship between government revenues and debt; and the direction of taxpayer obligations (cost of living). Future human capital availability as it relates to student academic outcomes and an educated workforce is on the balance scale.

One issue is the nagging persistently low primary and secondary student outcomes and the percentage of students who will be technologically equipped for twenty-first century jobs. To be honest we should be querying the proportion of each graduating cohort who can demonstrate basic skills achievement and cognitive development. Too many students receive grades 3 and 4 on the National Grade 6 Assessment exam. The policy of universal access to secondary school hides this rot. CXC-CSEC results is the canary in the mine, chirping a dire warning of impending danger. All current students are in the supply chain for creating the future workforce. Is our education system’s logistics geared for building a locomotive or a high-speed train? The education siren beckons.

Tertiary education expansion on Antigua is the other side of the coin. Most “tertiary” programs currently offered by Antigua State College (ASC) seem stuck in twentieth century orientation and urgently need an upgrade. Most programs do not end in a degree. And even when they do, these credits are not accepted by accredited universities. (e.g. UWI) Bringing new, landed, accredited, tertiary institutions, catering to diversified industry specializations, especially those infused with integrated technology, is exactly what Antigua needs. Quality always attract quality. An educated workforce will attract businesses, organizations, and social capital, to them, germinating innovation and entrepreneurs. It will also provide the future leaders and civil servants the country will need to successfully navigate the global oceans.

Revenge of the Nerds

As referenced in a prior article, higher education (HE) is big business – generating amazing profit. It is an economic jewel, prized by markets and governments alike. (GDP) The internationalization of HE institutions has forced a change in discussions regarding this education level. Modes of tertiary education delivery has undergone a revolution. The internet has been a game-changer for offshore, and onshore online learning. Revered, highly esteemed institutions (Ivy League) are no longer hesitant about creating extensions throughout the world. They aggressively market their indigenous institutions world-wide, to attract international students to their landed campus.

The supply of HE institutions (regardless of quality) and number of graduates (depending on specialization) is outstripping demand. Graduates are no longer guaranteed jobs, and many live at home, unemployed. There is a swelling chorus by students, academic scholars, businesses and government for workplace ready graduates. Tertiary institutions are required to “do their homework” and use existing data to tailor their offerings to local needs. Additionally, collected data point to a trending decline in tertiary level participation, as students balance amalgamated debt incurred with job availability and remuneration. “Build it and they will come” is no longer guaranteed. Today’s universities must embrace their new role as reality based education providers.

One example of such new thinking and change is right here in the Caribbean. The following excerpt was published in the Jamaica Observer by Shanae Stewart, February 22, 2019:

THE Mico University College and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cement a partnership, with the aim of assisting individuals in their pursuit of higher education, through labour market intelligence.

Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson said that through the partnership, the ministry’s Labour Market Information System (LMIS) will be able to disseminate relevant labour market information, engage in career development activities and populate the LMIS Skills Bank (persons who are trained and certified), with qualified skills produced by the institution.

… according to the ministry’s Hot Occupation Analysis Report teachers are in high demand, and teaching has been, and still is one of the top 10 jobs advertised in newspapers regardless of the time of the year. … the report showed that there is a consistent need for teachers of mathematics, Spanish, French, science, and technical areas such as information technology and mechanics.

 … He also applauded the ministry and its vision to partner with educational entities in bolstering its efforts in effectively preparing a healthy, balanced and ‘thinking’ work force, which he believes is the foundation for a strong and booming economy.

The LMIS, established in 2002, is a mechanism through which information on trends in the labour market is collected, stored and analysed, then disseminated. It also provides job search, career development and job placement information.  These services are used by students, jobseekers, employers and even policymakers.”

Newspaper articles over the past five years, have been more critical than laudatory of UWI, regarding its support and responsiveness to local business needs. UWI is also deemed un-competitive in terms of per credit cost, by many Caribbean nationals. However, although UWI is a newcomer to the work readiness party, based on its recently published report “Academia in Action, The UWI at 70: The Next Phase, they have a new attitude.

Densil Williams, a UWI professor and pro-vice chancellor, wrote an article outlining the new thinking currently emerging from UWI.  She praised the university’s emerging acceptance of its role as a catalyst for practical actionable ideas that can be operationalized for local economic growth, and extolled its initiative seeking new alliances with local entities. She noted,

As Caribbean economies re-position and restructure their operations to achieve significantly higher and more sustainable levels of economic growth, the call by policymakers and public commentators for the higher-education sector and, in particular, the university sector to become more activist in the quest for growth, has also increased.”

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, recently noted that a tracer survey of UWI graduates revealed the surprising fact that a significant portion were either under or unemployed. The news was disconcerting as he had assumed, like most Caribbean nationals, that a The UWI degree was an automatic job provider. However, this reality may change in the future as UWI leadership is leading the charge for revolutionizingits moribund institution and their long-term planning report is a most exciting read. [Academia in Action]

Cave Hill campus is steaming full-speed ahead with many innovative technology infused initiatives and Mona Campus is consolidating its medical education system exclusivity rights. Trinidad seems focused on light manufacturing start-ups and the Open Campus aims to become the network joining and binding all the campuses to each other in an online learning environment. What will be A&B’s campus niche? How will the current A&B tertiary institutions seamlessly integrate into the restructured UWI system?

UWI Open Campus data for one time successful passing of their English exam, a graduation pre-requisite, demonstrates the poor grasp anglophile citizens have of their national language. This should not be surprising if we go back to the student achievement in the CXC-CSEC English exam – it foreshadows this tale. Higher education teacher training programs must be reconfigured as these graduates are crucial to lower level student success.

Teaching is an oft overlooked area, justified by the myth that anyone can be a classroom teacher. Good teachers are the foundation of a country’s success and teacher quality is indispensable to successful student outcomes. Curriculum content and teaching strategies are ripe areas for diversified education research and commercialization of intellectual property.

Studies show that practitioners don’t usually make good teachers and that the right curriculum matters. Those who can’t do teach is an ignorant fallacy. Remember Churchill’s admonition: “the empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” The Caribbean must structurally reform the learning environment in classrooms as too many children are failing.

Government revenues can be conserved and redirected to training only the teacher specializations needed. I will add here that all teachers should embrace the teaching of code/computer science for any subject being taught, at any level – Pre-K to secondary school – to best equip our upcoming generations for the challenges of the future. (code.org free lesson planning and classroom resources) The future workforce is molded within the classroom. Lets make education sexy (attractive, interesting, exciting, rewarding) again.

New Ideas, New Relationships, New Age

So what is the data and backstory directing A&B on their future needs based on current reality and the programs currently being negotiated and implemented? What does the data say about gross economic activity, types of market activities – present, and/or future, potential revenue sources, possible investment areas, tax-burden related unintended consequences, and, labour force restructuring considerations? How will government use country data reality to partner with UWI to choose the most relevant, forward-thinking programs which should be situated here at the fourth landed campus?  Again, What is the niche for A&B campus?

How do we interpret the data to help us evaluate and create an effective inter and cross disciplinary education system? What information can be used to tell us how we should be educating our children today? Which associated education programs can be re-purposed, or eliminated, as they no longer fit with future goals? Which decisions need to be rethought because they maintain the failing status quo? What is the supply-demand chain that will be needed for the future? What are we going to do to change the stagnant incremental trend of student outcomes which have the fortunes of a majority of our students heading in the wrong direction?

I deliberately quoted Shanae Stewart instead of summarizing the essence of her article, as I wanted to highlight an actual event and the logical, rational underpinning that created a commonsense partnership. It is incumbent on UWI to create new economic models that generate self-supporting income that do not rely on taxpayer dollars. The university’s report shows an institution trying (and succeeding) to decrease its dependence on government maintenance subsidies that cripple the discretionary income of countries. This is a new age, universities should seek and attain self-sufficiency for its inception and maintenance. Here is a suggestion: – Use the land and buildings gifted to the institution by government members to obtain leveraged funding and eschew government handouts.

In thinking about ways in which universities such as UWI can become academic capitalists via monetization of research products and sharing partnerships, I came across an article written by Paul Schulmann (March 1, 2019)in the University World News. He summarized a New York Times article which touted “a new funding scheme originating in Silicon Valley that would replace traditional student loans with income-sharing agreements between students and their educational institution, which the author suggests could eliminate student debt

Hallelujah! A win-win-win solution. This is the type of game changer’ ideas the Caribbean needs, to relieve the burden of governments and students who pay dearly for the privilege of accessing higher education. It uniquely dovetails with a UWI student’s achievement in sargassum research. This dreaded seaweed has negatively impacted tourism and maritime activities throughout the area and across the world. Local businesses and governments as well as a new entrepreneurial entity could benefit from monetizing any discovery. UWI students are also involved in bio-plastics research with possible commercialization potential.

Taxing an already heavily regressive taxed citizenry in the name of sacrifice reeks of potential political pitfalls and unrealized, subsidized expectations. Universities don’t just have administrative costs (although the digital revolution has lowered the cost of education administration). UWI must lead the charge to convene meetings with all OECS members who stand to benefit from the proposed landed campus. It is never a good idea to ignore, or,not to, a priori, consult and solicit the input and participation of sovereign governments who are requested, after the fact, to assume a financial burden which may never end, and is legally enforceable. OECS members are sovereign partners not subjects, deserving of the utmost respect.

Sentimental and Associative Costs

UWI is celebrating its 70thbirthday. There is no question that it is  a true son of the Caribbean soil, greatly contributing to the higher education acquisition of the Caribbean peoples, is without peer in the area. It also has a long list of esteemed, distinguished alumni. However, change is a given and to stay relevant requires adoptability, adaptability, flexibility, and creativity. HE is no longer just about knowledge acquisition and comprehension, it is now about application, synthesis and creativity.

Negotiation is both art and science, and will sometimes create winners and losers, with the process dependent on the capabilities of participants. While we despise a con man, we admire expertise and creativity. Players in a game prepare, practice and produce. Governments play high stakes games, using the chips of their citizens’ taxes to wager the policy bets. They should be thoughtful chess/poker players, thinking four or five steps ahead. Sentimentality should not exclude/preclude pragmatism. A&B you are not beggars, you have good game cards.

UWI needs to keep expanding – in the fame-game of internationalization. UWI is currently researching IPO possibilities for its burgeoning real estate portfolio. Its recent report outlines its unapologetic aggressive academic capitalistic methodology for future financial security. And that is its right, showing the ingenuity and acuity of great leadership. A&B don’t let ignorance and lack of due diligence facilitate a giveaway that is detrimental to taxpayers and future economic growth. Balance the scales!

Here’s a final thought to add to the foundation of knowledge we the citizens should have when evaluating how well our government is doing. While gross domestic product (GDP) is an established measure of a nations wealth there is a new measure gaining prominence which best helps us in calculations of human development and well-being. This measure – Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) includes measures excluded from GDP and will better enable an analysis of our caretakers.

Below is the list of indicators that remind us of life’s hidden costs:

Income distribution;  Public consumption expenditure;  Value of household and community work;  Costs of unemployment;  Costs of underemployment;  Costs of overwork;  Private defensive expenditure on health and education;  Services of public capital;  Costs of commuting;  Costs of transport accidents;  Costs of industrial accidents;  Costs of crime;

Costs of noise pollution;  Costs of irrigation water use;  Costs of urban water pollution;  Costs of air pollution;  Costs of land degradation;  Costs of loss of native forests;  Costs of depletion of non-renewable energy resources;  Costs of climate change;  Costs of ozone depletion;  Costs of problem gambling;  Value of advertising

The author is an education instructional coach.  She may be contacted at conbelach15@gmail.com.  Other articles on education can be accessed at conbelach.wordpress.com, or, conbelach.blogspot.com