EDUCATION REFORM IN
THE COMMONWEALTH CARIBBEAN:
Very few major reforms took place in Commonwealth Caribbean education during the first half of the twentieth century. Public education, to serve the mass of the people, went into the doldrums largely because of the decision of the Imperial Government to cap educational expenditure to 10% of public revenue and to change its focus from liberal to agricultural/vocational education. It took major social upheavals in the 1930s, consequential constitutional and political reforms in the 1940s, and favorable economic circumstances up to the 1970s to reverse the malaise that had set in. Adult suffrage, representative government, and nationalism ushered in a new era in education in the 1950s. Therefore, the contrast in educational activity between last forty-odd years and the first half of the century is startling.
This chapter attempts several tasks. First, it seeks to assess educational reforms in the Commonwealth Caribbean in the independence period. Second, it tries to classify most of the reforms of the 1990s. Third, it attempts to relate the trajectory and content of recent reforms in this subregion to the global wave of education reform. Fourth, it draws some conclusions about the educational reform process and Caribbean education.
Assessing Education Reforms of the Independence Era
In attempting to assess reforms of the independence era in the Caribbean, we must first define the term independence era. First, not all seventeen Commonwealth Caribbean countries are sovereign nations. Second, the twelve sovereign countries became independent nations over a twenty-year period stretching from 1962 to 1981. The term independence era is used loosely as a label to cover the period from approximately 1950 to 1985 because self government and nationalism were the dominant themes and mood of that period.
Educational Reforms and the Political Dimension
Previous chapters on the descriptions and analyses of educational reform in the different countries clearly establish that from about 1950 education in the Commonwealth Caribbean was mobilized to serve political ends. It could be argued that the particular political end served was nation building. Certainly, in the countries that gained political independence, schooling contributed substantially in this regard. However, an important point that cannot be overlooked is the fact that the same types of policies, programs, and outcomes characterized the territories that did not become independent. This would suggest that some more inclusive formulation of the political ends served is needed.
Broadly speaking, it seems more accurate to say that education and the school systems were mobilized during the independence period to serve the cause of representative democracy. Adult suffrage and representative government placed political power in the hands of those representing the marginal majority in the various countries. For the first time in their history, the marginal majority, through their elected representatives, held the levers of state power. This was true before countries became politically independent, and remained true for those countries that did not. Education was therefore responding more to the prerogatives of full internal self government than to the changed external relations manifest in sovereignty.
Elected with a mandate to democratize all the avenues of upward social mobility, to remove discrimination in accessing public places, to equalize opportunity, and to address the needs of the previously disadvantaged, the newly empowered representatives pounced on education and schooling as one of the most obvious means of demonstrating their commitment to that mandate. Without seeking to denigrate the perspicacity of those politicians who viewed education in a more profound light and, therefore, provided the leadership in determining the content and direction of the education reforms, it appears that it was the instrumental aspects of schooling to legitimize the actions of the newly empowered representatives that ensured their widespread support for and use of education reform.
Put another way, the constitutional democratization of internal political power in all Commonwealth Caribbean countries dictated the democratization of all other aspects of Caribbean society and relations. The mandate and content of political office were to open the doors of opportunity that had long been closed to the recently enfranchised majority. The reform of education and schooling became the pillars of foundation in addressing this mandate.
This point is emphasized by the fact that although the dates of adult suffrage and representative government in different countries range over a twenty-year periodfrom 1944 to the late 1960sand although full internal self government showed similar variations in a starting date, the sequence of events was the same. The newly empowered electorate swept away the politicians who had been perennially elected under the old restricted franchise. A new set of representatives, distinctly darker in color, replaced them. The newly elected immediately enacted policies to expand educational opportunities, especially at the secondary level, including schools to which access by the marginal majority had historically been restricted.
Because of the unique social composition of Caribbean societies, the democratization and equality of opportunity imperative was really about breaking down ethnic, racial, and class barriers that had been erected during slavery and colonialism. It appears that political directorates across the Commonwealth Caribbean chose not to attack the issues of race, ethnicity, and class directly, but rather to finesse them through the themes of nationalism and nation building. This was true even in the countries that made no move toward independence.
The goals of equity and equality of opportunity, therefore, became embedded in the rhetoric of nationalism and nation building. The essence of the rhetoric was that the nation had a moral obligation to provide all of its nationals with equal opportunity to its resources and institutions. The link between equity and equality of opportunity and nationalism and nation building became almost natural. The theme that emerged was practically self-evident. In order to build a nation, all of its nationals had to have access to educational opportunity at all levels of the education system on an equal basis.
In following through this interpretation that educational reforms seeking equity for disadvantaged ethnic, racial, and class grouping were articulated largely in nationalist and nation building rhetoric, it is necessary to make a few observations. The scope of this monograph and chapter does not allow for a full treatment of these points, but some mention is necessary.
The Achievements of the Independence Era
The strategies for achieving equity and equality of opportunity, while employing the unifying rhetoric of nationalism nation building, could be listed as follows:
Favorable economic circumstances of the Caribbean in the post-war years through the mid-1970s facilitated the implementation of these strategies. In other words, not only was there the political will to implement these strategies, but there was also economic means to at least embark upon their implementation. Social demand, political will, and economic means all coincided during the independence era.
The achievements of these reforms are truly impressive. They can be recited briefly as follows:
It is these achievements that contribute to Barbados being ranked 20th on the Human Development Index among the 173 countries listed in the Index. It also accounts for the fact that among developing countries, Barbados ranked first and Bahamas and Trinidad fifth and sixth, respectively. In other words, not only are these achievements impressive when judged against the history of the region, but also in comparative terms.
An important observation from the comparison both within the sub-region and internationally is that while education improved in all Commonwealth Caribbean countries, the degree of accomplishment was not evenly distributed across the region. Barbados, the Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago made remarkable strides over the period. The reasons for this lay in a combination of economic, political, social, and cultural factors within each of these societies. While they enjoyed relatively strong economies over the period, resources were only part of the equation of accomplishment.
The point has already been made that initially the educational achievements of Guyana ranked close to the top in the region. The early gains, however, were squandered largely by political rather than economic factors. In addition, the Jamaican economy was one of the strongest in the region for a great part of this period, and spectacular educational gains were made, some of which have been lost over the last decade, however, due to a combination of political and economic reasons (although in Jamaicas case economic factors may have predominated in the retrogression). At the end of the independence period, therefore, while educational gains were made everywhere, some educational systems within the region are more comprehensive in their coverage and quality than others, and are also better endowed. When all factors are taken into consideration, the educational systems of Barbados and the Leeward Islands appear to have progressed the most and achieved the highest quality at the primary and secondary levels. When all levels of education are taken into account, Barbadian education is undoubtedly the best.
Any objective analysis of the independence period, therefore, has to note its accomplishments through the mobilization of considerable financial investments, significant paid and voluntary support, and high levels of client participation in the provisions made. There can be no doubt that the independence period, invoking the themes of nationalism and nation building, mobilized massive State support and received overwhelming popular participation. Together they took the education system through both a paradigm shift and a quantum leap.
The intriguing question that arises from this assessment is, given these remarkable achievements, why at the end of this period is there so much dissatisfaction with the present state of education? While the question certainly poses a glaring contradiction, there are a number of factors that readily appear to offer at least a partial explanation.
Notwithstanding the impressive gains, the goals of equity and equality of opportunity remain distant for the majority of Caribbean people. While the barriers of ethnicity, race, and class have been lowered, they have not been removed. Despite having changed the rules of access, poor children of Black or Indian origin from rural areas and depressed urban communities still have considerable difficulties gaining access to and maintaining themselves in those sections of the education system that offer the greatest prospects of upward social mobility. The promises of equity and equality made in the name of nationalism and nation building have not materialized for large segments of the population, and they have therefore become disappointed by and distrustful of such claims. While expectations were raised for all, the delivery of the promise was made only to few. Hence, while success cases are numerous, disappointed and frustrated persons are much more so.
Even though the independence period only delivered partially upon its promises, the cost was great. Driven by the imperatives of the social demand, the State went beyond its own resources and borrowed heavily in anticipation that the favorable economic circumstances would continue. By the middle of the 1970s there were signs that the years of sustained economic growth had ended. Optimistic governments interpreted these signs as temporary setbacks and borrowed even more with encouragement from the donor community recycling petro-dollars. Hence, it took another decade for the hopes of economic recovery to be translated into meaningful adjustment policies. Accordingly, the price and the pain of adjustment was much greater.
The impact that structural adjustment policies have had on education have been devastating for several reasons. First, they have raised serious questions about the cost and affordability of the education systems. Second, they have led to retrenchment in the public provision, leading to the impression that the State has reneged or at least retreated from its commitment to equity and equality. Third, the retrenchment in the public provision threatens many of the gains made during the independence period, thereby leading to a sense of disillusionment on the part of many who helped fashion and achieve these gains and a sense of stagnation on the part of others. Fourth, for the most part governments have lost considerable control of developments within their education systems to the conditionalities of donor agencies. This has led to the perception of compromised sovereignty since the State now appears as a supplicant to the agencies.
In this regard it must be noted that the extent to which donor agencies are able to impose their conditionalities on governments within the sub-region varies inversely with the economies of the countries. The stronger economies have been better able to negotiate assistance that is more consistent with locally determined directions and content, while the weaker economies are more compliant with the pre-determined conditionalities of the agencies, notwithstanding the local realities. Interestingly, when the donor-imposed conditions prove unworkable or ineffective, it is the governments who are held accountable by virtue of their acceptance of the assistance on those terms.
By adopting the strategy of seeking to achieve equity and equality by expanding the education system rather than by restructuring its organization, governments postponed dealing with many irrational and anachronistic elements of the colonial system. These aspects were simply made bigger by the expansion. While the particular features vary considerably among the different countries, they range from dualism in the public provision of secondary education to teachers having to apply to Ministries of Education for permission to travel abroad even on weekends and during holidays. While many of these were barely tolerable when the momentum of nationalism was carrying everything with it and promising further change, they have become intolerable where it appears that the systems have settled into routines likely to remain permanently.
The developments within the independence period have brought with them some new problems for Caribbean education. For example, universal primary and massor universalsecondary education has furthered the problem of illiterate children being promoted from the primary to the secondary level. For most Caribbean people, the working definition of secondary education is the stage of education after mastery of the primary level. Illiterate children in secondary schools represent a fundamental contradiction. This problem virtually never arose in education systems that did not enroll all children at the primary level, and that rigorously screened children based on achievement prior to admission to secondary schools. Students who had not mastered the basics from the primary system were simply excluded from entry to secondary schools. The current inclusion of illiterate children in secondary schools has raised new problems concerning the quality and effectiveness of the education being offered. The impression given is that standards have fallen.
The social, political, and economic circumstances of the 1950s and 1960s favored the interests of the marginal majorities in the sub-region and muted the influence and even the reservations and criticisms of the dominant minorities. The economic and political circumstances of the last decade have been reversed. For the first time in the second half of the twentieth century, the dominant minorities have the opportunity to not only critique the agenda of the independence period but alter it. The devaluation, underestimation, and even denigration of the achievements of the independence period have to some extent resulted from the highly critical reactions to recent educational development from these social segments. A favorite hobby-horse of criticisms emanating from these sectors has been the policy of free secondary education.
While these five factors characterize the education discourse in the different countries of the Commonwealth as a whole, they also form the broad parameters around which discontent resides regarding education in the sub-region. They constitute an important part of the advocacy for change and new directions.
The Reforms of the 1990s
The drive for reform in the 1990s, however, goes far beyond disaffection with the outcomes of the reforms of the independence period. They relate to fundamental global changes that have overtaken the Commonwealth Caribbean despite the gains of nation building reforms. Only a mere listing of these global changes can be undertaken here.
All Commonwealth Caribbean countries have responded to the imperatives of the 1990s but not in the same way. The responses can be classified into two groups: those that have developed comprehensive reform strategies and plans and those that have adopted a project-driven approach.
The first group is comprised of The Bahamas, Barbados, the OECS countries, and Trinidad and Tobago, all of whom responded by setting up National Commissions, Task Forces or Working Groups to develop comprehensive approaches. The Bahamas set up a National Task Force, chaired by Dr. Keva Bethel, that worked for almost a year. The Report submitted has been accepted by the government as national policy and is now being implemented. Barbados set up a National Commission, chaired by Professor Earle Newton, and adopted many of the Commissions recommendations in the National Education Plan to the Year 2000.
Trinidad and Tobago also set up a National Commission, chaired by Mr. Carrol Keller, and has incorporated its recommendations in its Education Plan. The OECS countries established a Working Group, chaired by Professor Errol Miller, which developed the OECS Education Reform Strategy, Foundation for the Future, which has subsequently been adopted by the Ministers of Education and the Prime Ministers of the OECS Authority as the long-term policy for education development in the sub-region.
An important point to note about these initiatives is their methodology. They all involved in-depth and wide-scale consultation within the societies. These consultations included persons and groups related to economic activities in Ministries and statutory bodies within the public sector; large and small enterprises within the private sector; associations representing these enterprises including those representing small businesses, manufacturers, commerce, tourism and hospitality industry, commodity groups, and financial services; and professional organizations representing various professionals, including law, medicine, engineering, journalism, accounting and others. They also included persons and groups representing civil society, including various religious bodies, service clubs, citizens associations, as well as political parties such as the governing party, trade unions, and non-governmental organizations engaged in social, economic, and philanthropic ventures. Also included in the consultations were persons and groups related to schools, including principals and teachers at all levels, teachers associations and unions, parents organizations and parent/teachers associations, students and student associations, and boards of governors where these existed. Finally, the consultations included the political directorate both in government and opposition.
In The Bahamas, the Task Force visited all the inhabited Family Islands to ensure that their views were not just heard in the metropolitan centers of New Providence and Grand Bahamas. In Trinidad and Tobago, not only did the Commission visit both islands of the twin island Republic, but they also consulted people in depressed urban communities and in rural areas. In Barbados, the Commission held meetings in communities all over the island and received written and oral submissions. All of these exercises attempted to benefit from the broadest span of views from all stakeholders, actors, and beneficiaries within the society and educational systems of the countries concerned. In addition, they all reviewed the available literature to benefit from the latest knowledge in the respective fields, and utilized up-to-date statistics from databases on various aspects of national life in the respective countries.
The OECS Working Group deserves special mention for two reasons. First, eight countries decided that they would plan their future in education on a collective sub-regional basis instead of an individual national basis. This is unusualif not uniquein educational planning because the exercise was not restricted to any one component or level of education but rather to the entire system. The decision is predicated on the principle that one way of sustaining long-term corporation within the sub-region is institutionalizing integration through the education system. Second, it was the only exercise that invited external participation. The chairman, though a Caribbean national, was not a citizen of an OECS country as were the other members. Also, the Working Group invited state-of-the-art reviews on several topics from Caribbean and Canadian experts. In addition, the Working Group held a Colloquium during which the authors presented their reviews, as did respected Caribbean educators and representatives of agencies assisting education in the sub-region. The Working Group, in making its recommendations, took account of the views expressed in the consultations, the findings from the state-of-the-art reviews, the feedback received at the Colloquium, data on the OECS countries, feedback from the eight Chief Education Officers in the sub-region and its own judgements.
The second group is comprised of Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. They are following a more project-driven path in which interventions are specifically directed to particular aspects or levels of the education system. Even in following the path, however, the countries involved have all had fairly widespread consultations concerning the particular projects. In addition, there has been broad-based participation in the various initiatives.
Belizes reforms are centered around a World Bank primary education project. There has also been some private sector initiatives to install computers in secondary schools and colleges and link them through a wide-area network. In Guyana and Jamaica, the reform efforts are centered around Inter-American Development Bank projects at the primary level and World Bank projects at the secondary level. In both countries, private sector groups have been involved in introducing information technology in secondary and tertiary institutions. In the Turks and Caicos Islands reforms are based on the recommendations of a UNDP-sponsored assessment of primary and secondary education, British Development Division sponsored interventions, and the efforts to establish a Community College with assistance from the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.
As one can see from earlier chapters of this monograph, notwithstanding the different approaches to reform, the elements and strategies of the different countries share a great deal of similarities and themes. Without attempting to repeat the details provided in these chapters, it is possible to list the themes as follows:
Relationships between the Independence and the 1990s Reforms
When the reforms of the 1990s are compared with those of the independence period, one glaring point emerges. In some countries, for example Barbados and The Bahamas, the two sets of reforms constitute a continuous, almost evolutionary, progression. The 1990 reforms are an evolutionary and incremental step built upon the previous reforms. This conveys a sense of stability and predictability and the ability to plan long term.
In some countries, for example Jamaica and Guyana, some of the reforms represent reversals of previous reforms. Free secondary and tertiary education have been replaced by cost sharing and user fees. This gives the impression of stops and starts in the sequence of educational change, and conveys a sense of instability and uncertainty that harbors short-term commitment.
While the current wisdom suggests that everyone is open to change, nothing is permanent and flexibility must be encouraged. Educational investment is essentially long term in nature if full dividends are to materialize. The ability to stick with a particular course of action is often the main factor in the eventual pay-off. Repeated changes, starts and stops only incur the high cost of the initial investment without ever being able to benefit from the returns. In this regard, some countries of the sub-region appear to be at a distinct educational advantage compared to others.
Caribbean Comparisons with the Industrialized Anglophone World
Before comparing the themes in educational reform in the English-speaking Caribbean with the wave of comparable reforms in the industrialized countries of the Anglophone World, two components, or caveats, are necessary. First, this comparison harks back to the historical fact that while the imperatives have always been different in the Caribbean, education reforms in this sub-region have always drawn much of their content and direction from corresponding reforms in the industrialized Anglophone world. Geopolitical, cultural, and more recently, economic reasons lie at the root of this connection. It is therefore interesting to see the extent to which these tendencies have changed or remained the same after 40 years of self government and independence.
Second, the major caveat in making these comparisons is the difference in the resource base of the two set of societies. Caribbean classrooms, even in the best endowed systems, fall far short of the resources in the industrialized Anglophone countries. Some would argue that such differences render very dubious comparisons. Here a qualification must be entered, for even these materially rich classrooms produce illiterate students at the end of 16 years of education. At the same time, these less-endowed Caribbean systems produce large numbers of students that can hold their own alongside their better-endowed peers. What is underscored here is that resources are only part of the equation in producing desirable education outcomes. The human input of students, teachers and parents is more decisive than the material inputs. But the comparisons are not made to see how the two sets of systems are measured against each other, but rather made to see in which directions they are headed and why.
In making the comparison between the Caribbean and the Anglophone First World, one is immediately struck by the differences in the motivation of the reforms. Education reform in the Anglophone First World is driven more by ideological reasons, whereas in the Caribbean it is driven more by economic reasons. This makes a considerable difference in some of the rhetoric and also in some of the emphases. For example, in the Caribbean there is no explicit assault on the principles of equity and equality of opportunity even where measures are being introduced to reduce access to the poor. It could be argued that this difference is simply tactical and hypocritical and therefore not real. However, the existence of a huge debt burden, to which these measures are related, at least raises reasonable doubt, especially where the government had made these changes and had demonstrated strong commitment to the equity and equality principles in the past.
Differences in reforms can also be seen with respect to the financing of education. While public expenditure in education has been reduced in many countries and cost recovery and cost sharing have been reintroduced in the form of user fees at the secondary and tertiary levels, no attempts have yet been made to privatize the school systems or shift resources to the private schools. There is no advocacy that private schools would do a better job than the public schools. There has been no attempt to dismantle the public system. This is not to say that donor agencies have not suggested privatization plans to governments in the region, but that such policy positions have been resisted. On the other hand, the cost sharing, cost recovery, and taxation plans introduced have been justified on economic grounds, thereby making up for the shortfall in government revenue and provisions for public schooling.
There are also differences in sources of inspiration. For example, prayers in school, parental choice of schools, and the role of the school in sex education are not issues in the Caribbean and are not addressed in reforms. Indeed, Barbados is about to introduce some limited form of zoning at the secondary level that would limit the degree of parental choice that currently prevails. If a New Right is to develop in the Commonwealth Caribbean, it is yet to emerge as a political force with the clout to set the public policy agenda. While it may be a closet force that has so far gone undetected, and possibly operated under the disguise of economic necessity, it has yet to reveal its identity.
The only hint of New Right rhetoric that appears in the Caribbean reform has to do with the accountability of teachers and schools. But even here the measures proposed do not include many of the usual elements of the minimum standard of each grade, tested annually and published in league tables. The point to note here is that Commonwealth Caribbean school systems have long been examination oriented with published results and hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students. These examinations, however, are usually at given at the end of a school cycle and do not apply to every grade. Caribbean policy-makers and the public are well aware of the dangers of high stakes tests, and would therefore be reluctant to apply them at all grade levels. While the issue of accountability is made in several documents, it is not clear how it will be implemented in the Caribbean context.
The Commonwealth Caribbean and the Anglophone First World countries have had similar reforms in the areas of:
In these areas the Caribbean reforms have drawn heavily upon the paradigms and patterns of the industrialized world, and therefore historical relations between the Caribbean and the Anglophone First World have not changed. Indeed, the Commonwealth Caribbean runs the risk of de-agriculturing its school system by buying ready-made educational software from the Anglophone First World, thus undoing some of the objectives of the reforms undertaken through curriculum development in the era of decolonization.
The 1990 reforms have differed from previous reforms in that the borrowing is now principally from North America rather than Britain. The North American influence is clearly seen at the tertiary level where community colleges, associate degrees, and semester and credit systems are the major concepts around which countries have organized or restructured their colleges. It is also seen in the Adopt-a-School and conflict resolution projects that are becoming popular in the sub-region. The adoption of American styles is not only spurred by geographical or geopolitical considerations, but also by the large numbers of Caribbean nationals who have been educated in North America and who are both influential in the public policy discourse and hold important positions in the public bureaucracy, including policy advisory positions.
On the issue of common or national curriculum it would have to be said that the Anglophone First World is now going in the direction of the Caribbean. National curricula have been a policy feature of the region for the entire independence period. It was part of the measure adopted to de-colonize the schools. The reform measures to produce common curricula in grades seven to nine are largely a clean-up exercise, since national and regional curricula were established for primary schools and the upper grades of secondary.
There are at least three themes that are fairly unique to the scarce resources of the Commonwealth Caribbean school systems, and whose intention is to try to reduce the gap between the more wealthy school systems of the First World. These are the following:
When the comparisons are looked at as a whole, it can be seen that in the reforms of the 1990s, the Commonwealth Caribbean is largely following its own imperatives. Where these coincide with those of the industrialized Anglophone world is when they continue to borrow heavily from the paradigms of that world. In other areas it is playing catch up with the First World, but being forced to do it in its own way bearing in mind the resource gaps. In some areas, such as curriculum and testing, it would appear that at least North America is moving in directions in which the Caribbean has always been headed. As a whole, the independence period shows some indication that the Commonwealth Caribbean has begun its own educational emancipation by beginning to determine the content and direction of educational reforms, primarily in terms of its own imperatives. However, the emancipation process is still in its early stages, since evidence of the traditional dependencies are still there.
In Chapter 1 an attempt was made to place educational reforms in the Commonwealth Caribbean in an historical and comparative context. A brief sketch was given of the different eras of educational reforms up to the 1960s. In concluding the discussion here, we will return to that discussion and link the reforms of the 1990s with the background previously given.
The history of educational reform in the Commonwealth Caribbean can be encapsulated and portrayed in the following manner:
The assertions embedded in this historical sketch of the education reform in the Commonwealth Caribbean are that education and schooling are about the mobilization of society around the imperatives of particular historical periods. Shifts in the societal imperatives bring with them consequential educational reforms, irrespective of the successes or accomplishments of the previous reforms since the shifts in imperatives are usually between different dimensions of society: religious, social, economic, or political. At all times there are unifying themes, missions, and executing agencies championing, leading, and organizing the reforms. In addition, whatever the ends, themes, or missions may be, there are persons deliberately or unintentionally excluded. Those for whom some conscience is exercised are able to identify the unintended aspects of the reforms as well as provide evidence of the groups against which exclusion does not cause real discomfort.
Viewed in this light, social and political ends have proven far more inclusive and effective in Commonwealth Caribbean history as mobilizers of educational effort rather than religious or economic ends. Their inclusiveness comes from their capacity to evoke commitment and effort from all sections and segments of the society. Both religious and economic ends have potentially diverse elements that both fragment and exclude important segments. It is against this background that the reforms of the 1990s need to be examined and assessed.
If material progress is the theme around which mobilization is to occur, then each individual should have a reasonable chance of acquiring and achieving the material symbols of success accepted in the society. Those who, by their own calculation, consider their chances remote, or practically non-existent, have little reason to be part of the mobilization process as potential beneficiaries. Further, potential actors, advocates and agents in the mobilization process may be deterred if their efforts, on behalf of particular beneficiaries, are likely to achieve very little.
From this perspective there are several worrying signs concerning the current directions of Caribbean societies. Many young adults, successful in the very types of education being advocated, find themselves unable to achieve many of the material means and symbols considered standard in modern consumer societies. These include being able, in ones lifetime, to buy a house in a relatively safe neighborhood, own a reliable car, travel every few years, afford children (including their education), adequately nourish oneself, enjoy dining out every so often, and owning certain household amenities.
Interestingly, these are the very means and symbols that have been traditionally associated with middle-class living. Yet at the same time that the world surges to elevate material progress and the consumer society, this is the very class that appears to be falling from grace and from which many are descending into the ranks of poverty. This is dramatically reflected in many families whose young adult members seem unable to continue to live, in the style to which their parents brought them up to be accustomed. These contradictions raise questions as to how successful this new theme and mission will be in mobilizing broad-based support and sustained commitment within the societies in the sub-region. They imply some weaknesses in the theme and the mobilization prospects.
It is against this background that one must interpret the widespread use of the change of century and millennium as a unifying theme and mobilizing cry in economic and educational reform. Increasingly, the Year 2000", the New Century and Millennium are afforded great prominence in reform documents. This may well be an attempt to give the economic end, which focuses on individuals, materials, and consumption, a utopian and mystical aura to widen its message and increase its appeal. However, attraction to a millennial message is unlikely to be sustained vicariously, in a materialistic era, notwithstanding lotteries.
When viewed over a four hundred-year time span, the English-speaking Caribbean, and indeed the Anglophone world, have come full circle in terms of educational thrusts and themes. While it is true that the 1890s and the 1990s bear several striking resemblances in the broad directions of the educational reforms, there are a number of important differences that must be noted.
First, at the end of the nineteenth century, the reforms restructured education around agriculture at a time when wealth was being created through industrial production. The Caribbean colonies were being deliberately kept from the very area in which metropolitan wealth was being generated. In contrast, at the end of the twentieth century, education is being restructured around information technology and human resource developmentthe twin engines of wealth creation in contemporary society. Far from being restricted to the backwaters of economic activities, the reforms of the 1990s are spurring the Commonwealth Caribbean countries to move fast-forward to its frontiers.
Second, and of equal importance, is that the nature of work is being transformed at the end of the twentieth century. Even so-called menial tasks are transformed in the information revolution by the difference in their ambiance. The historic aversion to manual work associated with slavery is finessed in this new era. The new paradigm of work therefore has potential mass appeal, if jobs can be secured. In addition, new technology has its own powerful appeal to the young that could enhance reforms.
Third, the global market place and economy at the end of the twentieth century may offer greater scope to small marginal countries without military might than at any other time in recent history. The high intellectual content and greater reliance on creativity in the current economic milieu may offer considerable scope for advancement than past economic relations where the hegemony of the industrialized countries was backed by military might. The challenge for small nations to mobilize their populations in order to compete in the global market place may indeed offer real changes to redress some of the historic imbalances.
Fourth, in a world in which services is a major category of economic activity, and where personal services constitute a growth area, small intimate societies with traditions of hospitality could become major players in several niches in the global economy. The challenge for the Caribbean will be to develop these services as natural outgrowth of the indigenous culture instead of artificial appendages that are custom made for the outsiders. The former is likely to be delivered with authenticity and confidence, the latter with an aroma of inferiority and subservience that will not be acceptable or sustainable.
Cast in this light, the economic-end education being restructured to serve at the end of the twentieth century has far more positive prospects than those of one hundred years ago. In addition, national sovereignty without some measure of economic strength is virtually meaningless. If the recent political gains of the sub-region are to be consolidated, then some greater measure of economic advancement for the mass of Caribbean people is imperative. Hence, from either the historical or the political perspectives, linkage of education with some economic goals is justified.
Notwithstanding these justifications, however, it is unlikely that the notions of individual material progress in consumer societies will be sufficient to secure the mobilization of Caribbean societies around the stated economic goals. Some wider, more inclusive goals are mandatory. In my view, the OECS countries are right. Economic advancement and educational mobilization must be agents of the creation of a unified region! The Nation State concept does not fit the Caribbean reality. All of the countries are materially affected by political, economic, social, and cultural developments in particular territories. The interdependence of the Commonwealth Caribbean is almost self evident to all but the historically blind and the insularly disabled. The future lies in regional integration. Economic advancement within and as one of the engines of regional integration is the long-term future to be created by education. This end is worth the investment and the sacrifice of educational mobilization at the end of the century.
The proposals and early implementation of these reforms cannot be considered final products, even though they are appropriately documented in the formats of logical frameworks and strategic plans, and have elegant mission statements. Not only are there major differences between what is written on paper and what gets implemented in practice, but the debate of educational reform in the sub-region is still very vigorous. As such, there is still time for new inputs, new interpretations, redirection, and refinement. Hopefully, this volume will add dynamic to the debate, new perspectives on the issues, and promote understanding of the processes at work.