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La Educación
Número: (114) I
Año: 1993

1. Professor Miller, I would like to discuss with you certain questions suggested by an article that you wrote for an earlier issue of  La Educación. In the article you wrote that the OECS islands face various political, economic, and social imperatives, all of which have an impact on Caribbean education. Could you discuss these imperatives and their implications for the Caribbean Region as a whole?

There are a number of issues on the agenda for the Region. First and foremost, in the political area, I believe that the maintenance of democracy is a critical issue. Governments are elected and have been so elected throughout the history of the Caribbean Region, with a short interregnum in Grenada. Except for that punctuation in our history, we have had elected governments. Since suffrage, beginning in 1944 with Jamaica and Trinidad, governments have been elected on the assumption that action will be taken to alleviate and ameliorate the conditions of the vast majority. In that context, there has been continuous reform of the state and increasing opportunity. In the last decade or so, however, I would say that we have had many reversals in which governments, elected in the hope of changing the lot of the majority of the people, are failing, repeatedly failing, to deliver those changes.

Education has been one of the major areas of hope and aspiration for people, but with economic retrenchment, education budgets have been severely cut. When you begin to do that, people begin to feel hopeless. The democratic process does not seem to work because the mandates given to elected representatives by the people are not being fulfilled. As a consequence, I believe that one of the political challenges of the next several years is to keep education as an avenue of hope and opportunity. This is necessary if governments are to maintain their legitimacy as the representatives of the masses rather than as mechanisms of the multilateral financial institutions.

Another major issue on the agenda is that of regionalization. We have already had the experience of a federation that failed. An attempt was made to form a unitary state with a federal government. This effort failed, but at the same time, a Region of separate nation states pursuing their own destinies in isolation does not seem to function either.

For example, when the upheaval occurred in Grenada, it not only affected Grenada; it affected the entire Caribbean. And I am not just speaking of the revolution; I am speaking of the fact that a government was tampered with so that it could not be changed democratically. This government was then removed by a revolutionary government. And then came the intervention. All of those events had an impact, such that people saw that we have a shared destiny in the Caribbean.

The formation of blocs is also important, such as trading blocs like the Pacific Rim countries, the American Free Trade Area, the European Community. And the question now is, “Can each one of the Caribbean mini and micro states interface with the world on its own?”

In my opinion, the earlier attempts at federation in the Caribbean failed partly because politicians tried to forge a political union when the people had not been prepared for it. If people are going to view themselves as one, there is a sense in which education has to be a prior focus. Through education, they come to see themselves as one people; they learn common things together and meet each other in different ways. That is building solidarity, and this must be present if we are going to have some kind of unity in the Caribbean.

There is a third issue that affects not only the English-speaking countries. The Caribbean is Dutch speaking, Spanish speaking, French speaking, and English speaking. This multilingualism really has nothing specifically to do with the Caribbean; it is the legacy of the past: the geo-politics of another age and era. Shall we continue to be divided in this way in the Caribbean forever? The geo-politics of the past have left us with cultural differences because the Dutch-speaking countries interfaced with Holland, the Spanish-speaking islands interacted among themselves and with Spain, the French-speaking territories related primarily to France, and the English-speaking countries dealt with the United States and with England.  So we ask, “When are we going to start interfacing among ourselves?” And that is the challenge I see for the future of education in the region. We have to begin speaking across these cultural barriers.

And our educational systems have to be forward-looking.  We in the English-speaking Caribbean have to be concerned about and interrelated with Haiti, with Cuba, and with the Dutch-speaking islands. This is also a matter that concerns our political nature and presents us with an essential challenge, if we are going to reconstruct the Region. Reconstruction, however modest, has to begin within the educational system. And I see these as the political imperatives for the
educational system in the Caribbean.