EDITOR: The charge that we must “transform education” is the latest from the United Nations and education professionals must find this idea banal, if not slightly amusing at best. For we know all too well that the flurry of activity accompanying this call to action will be short-lived and ultimately end, not having made much of a difference for us or our students.
The Vincentian contribution to the recently held UN summit suggests that in our context, SDG 4 -“to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”- will be taken up once again under the continuing Education Revolution. My argument here is that unlike politicians, educators know the true fruits of this revolution, and the suggestion that we continue down this path offers little hope for the future.
Revolution and its fruits
The historical importance of revolution in the Caribbean is undeniable, but the character of any campaign must be examined, weighed against its effects. The problem is that Caribbean Revolutionaries, the self-styled progeny of Garvey, Marley and Rodney always eager to show their Trench town Bonafides, choose not to centre the voices of the objects of their concern.They instead presume to speak for us. Unsurprisingly their discourse is always a second-hand derivative, ventriloquistic in nature. Where intellectual hubris rejects studied contemplation, we see the consequences of what can only be called schooling, not education. Schooling is learning devoid of any ethos or telos. This is what the Education Revolution offers us, despite claims that the product is uniquely ours in character and purpose.
The current state of affairs predates, but perhaps was made more acute by our Education Revolution. A masterful attempt to transform education, it maintained predominantly material preoccupations and in so doing misdiagnosed our case and the root causes. That transformation has now become institutionalised educational malpractice. The exclusionary model of education of the past was untenable, but the claims of the Education Revolution to have bettered the quality of education require closer inspection. It is relatively easy to count the number of trained teachers, the number of university graduates in each household, new buildings built and present these as proof of improvement. However a qualitative look at the education system paints a more accurate picture. Education professionals will attest that most of our classrooms serve as little more than waiting rooms for the next generation, many of whom leave without completion, in search of lucrative, often illicit, prospects elsewhere.
We also cannot help but notice that Caribbean Revolutionaries regularly choose private alternatives for the education of their children. This is their right. However, most Vincentian parents are forced to be content with the poor quality of the public offering.
The vain and dogmatic style critical thinking of Caribbean Revolutionaries will reject this assessment of our education system. They will maintain that the root cause of our situation can be found in our colonial past from which there is no escape, until reparatory justice is served. This is a convenient impediment that allows focus to be diverted to continued rage against a defunct Empire, perceived threats of imperialism from the North, and the search for some technology-based miracle to solve our educational dilemma. When the pandemic hit, technology reprised the revolutionary siren call, and in this year’s exam results, we see our just rewards. No matter how much we are plied with vague and nebulous talk about digitalisation or how the Metaverse will change our lives, technology will never replace those processes that are exclusively the domain of the sentient. As technology can only mimic the capacity for language and communication, it can only pretend to the task of education.
Politics and education
If we had hoped to look for direction from the local political discourse, unfortunately this offers little. The opposition once taunted the ruling party for being a single encyclopaedia and 12 copy books, but theirs is an empty library, devoid of any tools for academic enterprise. It would seem that it is not just the education of our children we need to be concerned with, but also the education of those who court our vote. The death of Her Majesty The Queen was regarded with little respect by those whom we have called to represent us. We looked on in disbelief, as there was almost no indication that we were in fact observing a period of mourning. Next, came the indignant rejection of a pause in public life to honour the service of our Head of State. This decision was not the result of dialogue with the citizenry, but a paternalistic assertion claiming to know what is best for us. To compound this wounding, we were left to figure out how to explain this to our children, whose civic education extols the virtue of democracy.
The task of defining aspirations for our country and education system in the new Carolean era is one only we can undertake, collectively. Any attempt to revolutionise our governmental structure must come from engagement with us, not just the assumption that the time has come. What we choose for our future and who we choose to be the architect of change, are two different matters entirely. This must never be taken for granted by those who serve us. We cannot simply look to our neighbours and follow suit. The biggest flaw of the nations in Our Caribbean Civilization is an unspoken need to outdo each other. Our regional leadership counts among it our brightest, who long after leaving school have not rid themselves of the need to be at the top of the class. But we can hardly let our future be defined by quests for schoolboy-like validation. For all the republicanist denial of significance that accompanied the closing of the second Elizabethan age, none could temper his vanity and resist the opportunity to breathe palatial air.
It is this duplicity, visible locally and regionally, that reminds us that in transforming education, the revolutionary’s path is not the one we want for our children. It is superficial and inspires in some of our citizenry, the kind of woeful cognition that suggests that we remove the cenotaph or discontinue the use of the term “public servant” because, clearly, these are emblems of Empire. This level of ignorance should scare us and shake us to the core. The misguided intellectual hubris in the masses of the schooled lets us know that we have failed in our educational endeavour. As we reflect on the meaning of this most sacred month, I call for studied contemplation. If we are to chart a path for education that is truly transformative, we must first decide, together, who we are, and where we are going. May God bless and keep us true.