The UWI Open Campus’  Sir Dwight Venner Memorial Independence Lecture
Dr. Fraser- Point of View
December 2, 2022
The UWI Open Campus’ Sir Dwight Venner Memorial Independence Lecture

This year’s Independence lecture was on education and was delivered by Vincentian Professor Joel Warrican, Director of the School of Education at Cave Hill, Barbados. Professor Warrican’s lecture was entitled “Independence or In Dependence: Unmasking the fallacy of Education – Rooted in Colonial Traditions.” It was fitting as we reflect on our 43 years of independence that the focus was put on education which is so critical to our national development. Warrican told us from the beginning that he was looking at the topic from a Caribbean perspective since the issues are relevant to all the countries of the Caribbean.

As I listened to him while reflecting on what he was saying from the perspective of a Vincentian I asked my self the question I have been asking for a long time- why do we continue to spout this nonsense about an education revolution? I have for a long time been trying to find out what is revolutionary about our education system.

According to the presenter, education has a long way to go to get out of its colonial mindset where it was a powerful weapon used by those who implemented and controlled the system. Admittedly he agreed our nations are still young as independent political entities and there is much to be done.

The victims of the colonial system have however now taken up the weapons. The system was paternalistic and meant to represent training for jobs to protect the interests of the colonials. It had transfixed the victims into a state of dependence where they were convinced that it was best for them. The curriculum, he admits is outdated and has been so for a number of years. We have been merely introducing some “ad-ons” in an ad hoc manner, with no removals, really like putting new wine into old bottles.

He mentions the recent interest in STEM which he applauds but wonders how important it will be if nothing is removed. But something is missing, and he referred to a recent article he read which has turned STEM into ESTEM, the “E” representing ENTREPRENEURSHIP. This is really the way to go given the need to move to self-reliance and prepare students for the market.

The curriculum he admits is biased in favour of the traditional and is preparing students for jobs that no longer exist. It is in this way outdated and overloaded in a way that keeps us constantly dependent. Even teacher education needs to be drastically transformed since teachers are being trained to teach students that also no longer exist. The young students today are technologically savvy with their use of Ipads, cell phones and other mobile devices which the system had always viewed with suspicion and had banned from use in the classroom. It was only the recent pandemic that had forced a rethink and pushed the system to embrace the technology but as Warrican admits, as the risks and challenges of the pandemic have been reduced many have moved back to business as usual. Teachers have to be trained to properly use the technology on an ongoing basis.

The system has kept us captive and dependent even while our countries have become politically independent. As he reflected on the traditional colonial system, he notes that class has replaced race as a major issue with the victims now being largely members of the working class. It was not Professor Warrican’s intention to provide solutions to the many problems, but he was prepared to provide a vision of what needs to be done and in doing so he goes back to the emphasis on the academic and asks that greater prominence be given to technical and vocational training. The curriculum also demands greater diversity based on the needs of the country. He had among other things, much to say about the system of assessment that still puts emphasis on examinations.

I have really done a disservice to Professor Warrican by pulling out a few issues, but to have done otherwise would have been to transgress the space allowed me by the editor. As so often happens we have presentations that are followed by discussions and it ends there, but given how critical education is, this should be used for workshops by teachers and principals, officials of the Ministry and the general public for that matter. There is much in it that can inform discussions on education in the media.

Professor Warrican has laid it bare and unmasked the fallacy of education that today, despite minor changes, is still rooted in the colonial traditions. It was indeed a powerful presentation and I hope many persons in the education system had been able to listen to it.

l Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian