(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Address to the Nation Pt.2)
Despite the self-praise and boasts of this government, we have a lot of ground to make up in our education system. Plasters and platitudes cannot mask the failure of the system anymore and cannot comfort students and parents who are losing out.
To make things better I recommend the following: We must improve conditions in schools by maintaining the buildings regularly so that they don’t become uninhabitable and have to be closed for repair. This approach would avoid the spending of millions of dollars to build temporary plywood schools to replace the run-down ones. Those millions could be better spent in a planned regular maintenance program and on other amenities.
Our children are part of the 21st century economy, so our schools must prepare them for it. The new technologies used in online learning during the pandemic have opened our eyes to promising possibilities. Let us embrace them and integrate them permanently into the way we teach and learn. Giving each child a laptop is not the fulfilment of that objective but merely the beginning of it. This also requires reliable high speed internet services in all schools and every home. High speed internet is no longer an optional luxury, but an necessity for education.
We must upgrade teacher training to make effective use of information technology in everyday teaching. The now familiar platforms and techniques of online learning should not be abandoned just because we have returned to the traditional classroom. Let them be our new normal.
Further, it is not only about how we teach but also what we teach. The present curriculum and programs do not adequately prepare all students for life.
I am calling for a comprehensive review of our curriculum at all levels to ensure it supports, challenges, and prepares our children for the future.
For too long our education system has focused on traditional academic programs that culminate with CSEC, CAPE and a university degree. Our schools should also be equipped to provide and assess students in skills and technical aptitudes needed for jobs and economic development.The Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) is part of the process of achieving certified skilled workers, promoted by the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Though this CARICOM initiative was established in 2007, it was only in 2016 –almost a decade later–that St. Vincent and the Grenadines was granted approval to offer Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) and while other CARICOM countries have been offering CVQ’s at levels 1 & 2 with much success at the secondary school level, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has in effect been offering limited skills training to limited numbers of out-of-school youths.
Indeed, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been left behind by its regional counterparts because the necessary instruments to facilitate implementation at the secondary level are not in place. So, we see why after 21 years in office, Prime Minister Gonsalves would lament that there are not enough skilled tradespersons to take up jobs in our construction industry and that despite high unemployment here, the government is asked to allow foreign workers to take jobs in hotel construction.
We must turn this around. We recommend that the following strategies be implemented immediately:
Ensure that technical and vocational education is well-integrated within the education system so that every child has the opportunity for a comprehensive education.
Ensure competency-based curricula linked to the CVQ framework in all secondary schools and other suitable settings in the workplace and the wider community.
Establish a qualification framework that enables learners to move seamlessly between “academic” and vocational qualifications in formal and informal educational settings.
Revamp and expand the YES programme to provide opportunity for on-the-job training while earning a living wage;
Increase opportunities for skills development and lifelong learning through vigorous and well-managed Continuing Education programs.
In addition to technical and vocational programs, we must teach agriculture in all primary and secondary schools.
Further, to develop the whole person and promote our culture, Art, Music, Dance and other forms of cultural expression must be regarded not merely as optional courses but as essential components of a modern education. So, they must be taught at all levels and in all schools.
In keeping with this and the recognized importance of shaping our unique national identity, instruction in the Garifuna language should be made widely available in our schools.
Education should not be an unaffordable burden for families. The rising cost of living continues to hurt families. At this time of the year school books, uniforms, bus fares, and daily lunches cut deeply into family budgets. We believe that VAT should be reduced to lower living costs for everyone.
And we must do other things too: Registration fees for secondary schools are too much. At a time when families are facing pressures across the board, we believe registration fees should be eliminated. CSEC and CAPE subjects must be paid by the state. Parents and students should not have to go begging friends and strangers for money to pay for their subjects. Having admitted all students to secondary school and encouraged them along the way, it makes good sense to complete the process by paying for their exams. For too many families, the joy of securing a place at university is dampened by the fear of expensive student loans. Our student loan rates are among the highest in the region. We have a plan to cut those rates in half to 4.5%.
While the ULP have become consumed with internal divisions and shelved succession plans, the rest of us who care more about our country must plan for the future. We in the NDP have a plan to deliver at all levels of our education system. It supports students, teachers, and parents. Most importantly it is a plan that will build our education and skill levels to meet the needs of the economy and prepare our people for jobs now and in the future.