A Relevant Education System
By Nkrumah Lucien
President-UWIAA-St. Lucia Chapter
May 02, 2007
This was written in response to the Budget presentation of Prime Minister Sir John G.M Compton of St. Lucia April, 2007. Here is a link to the full text of the Budget : www.pm.gov.lc/2007_2008_budget_page.htm.
I was sitting on a mini-bus thinking about Prime Minister Sir John Compton's budget presentation and his promise of a 'relevant' education system. His definition was that a relevant education system was one that satisfied the needs of the job market. It was in keeping with the notion, which has been recently revived, that what has been lacking in our education system is the willingness to cater adequately to the provision of more vocational and skills training. This, in the mind of some, is why we have so many of our youth on the streets and such a growing problem with drugs, violence and crime. I wondered how different this definition of education might be from that implemented in the immediate aftermath of Emancipation. However, education is the crux of the progress of any society and must be understood in a wider context than only formal schooling.
This overly simplistic idea of education is the root of much of the problems which "Third World" societies face. Education is understood largely as a quantitative function; the wider qualitative aspect of it seems to have been lost to successive regimes in St. Lucia. In this budget, there is little indication that this will change. Such an apolitical and unempowering notion of education has consistently failed everyone involved, including those "educated" and their "Third World" nations. As a result, it has persisted as a tool to continue the dominance of our psyches, societies, economies, media and politics by the First World interests and agendas. The beneficiaries of these education systems have always been their initiators, the imperialist countries of the "First World". These are among the last vestiges of the old colonialism; the new ones of course are found in economic hitmen (1), International Financial Organizations, "Free" Trade and pseudo-objectivity all in a skewed world. A relevant education system is a complex function and cannot be reduced entirely to economic terms.
A number of challenges present themselves for anyone who dares approach the task of transforming a 160-year-old, irrelevant system marred with all sorts of agendas and flawed perspectives, into one which can take a nation such as ours forward. What is the nature of the nation that this system is to serve? This is a nation of a predominantly non-White population composed primarily of Africans, in which women have consistently been deprived of their due from the days when the "democracies" of the White Imperialist System refused them any role in the politics of their nations, as a reflection of the backward misogyny of their societies. We have deeply entrenched in our societies, what Dr. Marimba Ani, in her essay, Hypocrisy as a Culture, (2) called the 'Rhetoric ethic', which is opportunistic, hypocritical and glorifies deceit and a general lack of integrity. It glorifies one's ability to be duplicitous, showing oneself as something one is not and is not aspiring to be. Further we face the challenge of mobilizing a largely self-hating people whose self-hatred produces in them helplessness and a consequent apathy in the face of a world system skewed against their nations and against them. From this profile, and other more inherent factors, stem most of our problems, including brain-drain (which occurs long before persons have physically migrated), an unnecessarily high import bill, a weak and vulnerable export-bound mono-crop raw material based industry (making our economy too heavily dependent to begin to chart its own course even in the slightest), and dangerous 'macho' attitude, among other interrelated issues. This is only a summary of the complexity which abounds when one seeks to create a relevant education system. The simplistic concept, which is being pursued, threatens to achieve, in the long-term, only marginal increases in the aggregate of national income at the cost of sustaining or further accentuating the economic divide between social classes and further aggravating the socio-economic issues. Ultimately the evidence of its decay will have to be constrained by an ever-increasing police force without any major change in the socio-economic situation of the mass of people. This is ultimately doomed to fail as has been demonstrated in Trinidad and Tobago where even Police officers and members of the defense force have been assassinated. This is a very precarious balance to pursue.
Our education system must create individuals who can love themselves enough not to denigrate themselves, their offspring and others, as is largely the case currently. This was clearly demonstrated in a short documentary film "A Girl Like Me" (3), in which a young filmmaker, 18 year old, Kiri Davis, replicated an experiment which showed that the majority of African-American girls chose a white doll over a black one. Many claimed that it was because the white doll was more beautiful and rarely knew why they did not choose the black doll (although they recognized that it most resembled them). Were such an experiment to be done here (in St. Lucia), the results would most likely be either similar or worse. These children cannot be blamed entirely as no concerted effort has been made on the part of the government to address those issues. Has a policy been forthcoming on making this a priority? How do we get our bookstores to supply a more balanced collection of books, which can properly serve a population of our composition? People who do not see themselves in images of beauty, power, and success in the main may never be such. The formal and informal education system needs to be shaped, or in the case of the latter, influenced, to deal with a society in which Whites have historically been privileged and Blacks have been deprived. An insightful essay written by a White American, Mr. Tim J. Wise, White Whine: Reflections on the Brain-Rotting Properties of Privilege (4) reflects on the need to attend deliberately to the agenda of African people who are sidelined in the mainstream media etc. This is as applicable here as in the United States. Economically speaking, by dealing with such issues it becomes possible to empower a larger part of the labour force, bridge the divide, focus the efforts of the country with less division, and address the social ills which currently threaten our society.
The leaders of our country must be honest and meticulous about identifying the real issues that plague us. The drug problem is grounded heavily on upper class citizens who bring in huge quantities of cocaine and compressed marijuana into the country. This industry is not so much fuelled by the African boys and young men in the ghetto who earn a small fraction of the sales many times as an alternative to being without those material comforts or symbols which the entire society is lead to pursue. We also fail to be aware that the police and so called "criminals" are victims of the same neglect and are out killing each other while the more privileged continue to bring drugs and guns into the island and continue to accumulate money in our more prosperous residential areas, the real centers of influence, well-guarded by the very same police. At the base of it, our 'Third World' issues are structural; they are rooted in who controls our resources, trade and various other worldwide international forces which constrain and squeeze us. The subclass (those who are deprived for the to benefit and prosperity of the upper class) of the "First" World is situated largely in the "Third" world and unless people are made to understand the workings of this structural oppression, they will remain unable and unwilling to strive with the government to overcome it.
There is little else in any Third World budget that is divorced from these issues. The absence of insight by successive regimes is the main accomplice in sustaining the great divide between the classes and the city continues to suffer "Death by Liar". I have little faith left in Government acting alone to deliver this. The most important component of democracy, the people (in Civil Society and on a community level), needs to be made to understand how the structure works and how they can begin to defeat it and to empower themselves and their countries. The leaders will have to follow.
(3) www.post-gazette.com/pg/06360/748295-51.stm - a similar experiment was done about 40 years before, by Dr. Kenneth Clarke, yielding the same results.
(4) www.timwise.org - this essay is currently in the essay archives of the site