Errol Miller

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 period—from 1944 to the late 1960s—and 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.

  • By using nationalism and nation building as the rhetoric around which to address the issue of equity and equality of opportunity to previously disadvantaged groups in the society, Commonwealth Caribbean countries were invoking positive and powerful unifying themes to address potentially divisive and explosive issues related to ethnicity, race, and class. The nationalism and nation building themes offered the prospect of including the privileged ethnic minorities while addressing the needs of the marginal Black and Indian majority. It also assumed that these themes would keep the marginal majority unified.
  • Because Blacks constituted the majority in almost all Caribbean countries at mid century, and because they had spearheaded the assault on the Colonial Government, nationalism could almost be regarded as a euphemism for Black enfranchisement in the societies in which they were for so long marginalized. Although it was only for a short period in the 1960s that the racial rhetoric was actually used (during the Black Power Movement), this was indeed the sentiment of the times. This was manifest in the insistence on the positive image of Blacks in the media and in textbooks, the appointment of Blacks at all levels of the government and corporate structures, the access of Blacks to exclusive clubs and social places, and access to all levels of the educational system.
  • While the term “Black” was used by many in an inclusive sense to mean all previously disadvantaged groups within the society, there was always confusion and overlap with its more exclusive meaning with the particular group that it identified. In countries like Barbados, Bahamas, Jamaica and the Leeward Islands, where the population was mainly Black, the more inclusive meaning prevailed. Indians were included in its meaning. However, in the countries with more complex ethnic composition, the exclusive meaning was more prevalent in both rhetoric and action. In Trinidad and Guyana, Indians felt excluded, and race continued to have more overt social meaning than in the rest of the sub-region. In Belize, it was Creole nationalism than prevailed.
  • In the less socially complex society, political parties were not fashioned along racial lines and political competition centered around the party’s success with respect to effective implementation of the “nation building reforms.” The frequency with which governments changed hands between the competing parties seemed to be evidence of how the electorate assessed their efforts. Several writers noted the continuity of educational reforms in most countries despite the changes in regimes. This would seem to suggest that the competition was about doing “more” in education than doing “different” things. In Trinidad and Tobago, while there were significant elements of the Indian community who felt that the Black segment of the population had hijacked the nationalist movement and the nation building rhetoric, there was no fracture of the society along racial lines due to the fact that coalitions were formed between segments of different racial groups. Despite continuing tension along the racial divide, educational reforms followed a path very much like the less socially complex countries of the sub-region.
  • Guyana, though it started out with the more inclusive meaning of Black, and while it followed the rest of the region in seeking to unify the diverse groups around the themes of nationalism and nation building, soon saw its political parties fractured along racial lines. Through manipulation of the electoral system with external assistance, Blacks remained in control of the State apparatus for over twenty-five years even though they were the minority in the population. The democratic process was interrupted with disastrous effects. This explains many of the bizarre projects and reckless reforms implemented in that country. The first to revolt against these measures were the qualified teachers, most of whom migrated. Hence, far from making educational progress over the last twenty years, as can be claimed by the rest of the sub-region, Guyana’s education has declined to such an extent that it is currently the worst in the sub-region. Many of the early educational gains of the post-war and independence periods have been squandered in the period where the democratic process was interrupted and where divisive policies were pursued.
  • While the government in Guyana has changed and the democratic process has resumed, Indian nationalism and nation building now prevails. While this is understandable, the extent to which Guyana will be able to maintain a positive trajectory will depend on the extent to which its political paradigms will become more inclusive and organized around unifying themes.

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:

  • The expansion of the educational provision at all levels of the education system.
  • The changing of the rules governing access to the secondary level, particularly to grammar schools.
  • The creation of new institutions at the tertiary level and ensuring equity in access to these institutions.
  • The restructuring of the curriculum to promote national and Caribbean identity and solidarity by the inclusion of national and Caribbean literature, history, geography, specimens and examples and the inclusion of positive images of all the peoples that comprise the societies.
  • Measures to improve the quality of education through building national and regional capacity; for example, teacher training, examinations, and educational research.

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:

  • The vast majority of infants, over 80%, are enrolled in pre-schools as compared to less than 30% forty years ago.
  • Universal primary education that ensures access to all children exists within the region for the first time in its history.
  • Mass secondary education is available in all countries, eight of which offer universal secondary education This is compared to less than 10% coverage forty years ago.
  • Most children with special disabilities are now provided for in the public education system in almost every country, whereas forty years ago there was no such provision in the public system.
  • The establishment of all types of colleges at the tertiary level, thereby making this level of education more accessible to the middle and lower social strata than ever before.
  • The creation of a regional university serving the needs of the sub-region in the main areas of scholarship and research.
  • Curricula that reflect the peoples and culture of the region.
  • Schools staffed almost entirely by nationals of the region, most of whom are professionally qualified teachers, and the existence of indigenous teacher training capacity to sustain the professional status of teachers.
  • Secondary school students assessed by a Caribbean institution, CXC, on curricula appropriate to secondary education in the sub-region.
  • Successful non-formal programs in adult literacy and skills training for out-of school youths.
  • The more sophisticated management of education through integrated Ministries of Education, replacing the fragmented structures previously supervised by the Departments of Education.
  • Girls have at least achieved gender equity with boys at the early childhood, primary, and secondary levels and have even surpassed them. At the tertiary level, males continue to hold the advantage in engineering-related subjects, but have lost it in practically all other areas (although in the science-based areas the gap is still relatively small).

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 Jamaica’s 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 mass—or universal—secondary 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.

  • The collapse of the ideological polarities that have shaped the world for nearly one hundred years has left in its wake a unipolar world dominated by capitalism and market forces at the beginning of the 1990s. The burden of resolving all social, ethical, and economic problems of the countries of the world have been put on the shoulders of market forces. This includes the growing inequities between and within countries. Faith in the market to resolve these substantial problems persists despite its known ethical weakness and its previous failure to resolve these problems in the last century. The emerging ideological polarities are those between North and South, once it is accepted that within every Northern country there is some South, and within every Southern country there is some North. While for the moment there is greater intercourse and solidarity within the North, the potential for the South in each society to explode with the growing inequities cannot be dismissed.
  • At the same time that the ideology of market forces reigns supreme, markets are globalizing at a rapid rate. Financial markets are leading the way, with several of them becoming important and dominant centers in different parts of the world. The possibility exists of emerging markets joining these centers in the not-too-distant future. While economic growth has been sluggish in many countries, strong growth, where it exists, is export driven, thereby suggesting that competition through trade is the path to sustained economic well-being. In addition, capital has become transnational, given the ease with which it can cross borders and the speed with which such transactions can take place. In this climate, capital has become sensitive to interest rates and exchange rates differentials between countries, and has therefore become short term in its focus. The result is that even wealthy industrialized countries are not beyond the speculative manipulations in capital markets.
  • Wealth creation is currently not so much the result of excess capital or cheap labor, but of technology and the quality of the work force. In the information society that is emerging, where services have replace the production of durable goods as the main engine of growth and wealth generation, it is science and technology and human resource development that are the critical factors of comparative advantage. Countries that have the advantage in both of these areas are not about to be generous with those that are disadvantaged. In such circumstances both technological and human resource development must therefore become endogenous enterprises within countries hoping to compete in the global market place.
  • Like many other populations globally, Caribbean populations are maturing. There are fewer children entering schools each year at age five or six. This is a result of the falling birth rate and the corresponding decline in the numbers of live births. Life expectancy in the sub-region is also increasing and is comparable to many First World countries. It is currently averaging around 70 years for men and 75 years for women. This demographic shift in the parameters of Caribbean populations imply that increasing attention must be paid to the education of adults, since they will have to face the dictates of the rapidly changing economic circumstances dictated by market forces. Persons who missed out on educational opportunities during childhood and adolescence have to be given the opportunity to recoup their losses as adults. This is critical since there will be fewer and fewer young people to meet new demands. Put another way these demographic characteristics do not permit a strategy of “writing off” adults while concentrating education and training on children.
  • The demographic features of the sub-region includes a “baby boomers bulge”, but this generation is younger than the one in the United States (from which the label is derived). This generation is now between 25 and 35 years of age, just about “prime age” in the work force. This bulge in the age structure of the populations have stretched countries beyond their limits in finding gainful employment. The situation has been aggravated by the downsizing of government and the laying off of public sector workers, as well as those in the private sector. The result is a significant increase in “at risk youths”, the generation just behind the “baby boomers.” The destructive, illegal, and violent behavior among the “at risk males” and high incidence of pregnancy and prostitution among the “at risk females” are both troubling features of contemporary society that cannot be ignored.
  • While the demographic trends in the population suggest that this could be a temporary hiatus, both the technological trends of requiring fewer people in the work force and the growing inequities between segments in the societies and between countries, suggest the opposite. If not addressed, “at risk youth” could become enduring features of modern society and threaten other advances made.
  • The rapid technological changes have not only had far-reaching economic implications, but also dramatic social and ethical consequences by aggravating already worrying features of social organization and ambiguity in value structure of society. Many of the effects have been indirect. For example, by permitting major changes in the management structure of corporations, many middle managers have been displaced, leading to untoward effects on their families and their role as fathers and husbands. Also, by opening up new channels of communications, the process of less personal intercourse is heightened. While trends have long indicated the breakdown of traditional family structures and the increasing contact between people through electronic machines, information technology has similarly accelerated and enlarged these tendencies. These have raised important questions concerning the character and content of society, its related institutions, and of the individuals that comprise them. The recurrent themes have centered around values and attitudes and other ethical issues. Traditional values and attitudes are being reexamined. While there is advocacy to revert to tradition, there is also strong argument for the reconstruction of value systems to meet the contemporary situation.
  • Pedagogy in schools is generally perceived to be outdated in its capacity to address contemporary ethical and behavioral issues, and obsolete in the technology employed in instruction. Technology in the classroom appears outmoded compared to many homes, most offices, and modern entertainment and is out of step with the learning styles of children comfortable with the information revolution and excursions into cyberspace. There are major questions as to how schools should address the value questions being posed by the “times” and by the children who bring their contemporary questions to school. Again there is the escalation in the incidence of children bringing weapons to schools, including guns. The implications of this practice for discipline in the school is far-reaching. Moreover, the situation is further compounded by changes in parental posture with respect to the schools’ latitude in addressing these issues. The prospect for litigation looms larger than ever before.
  • The implications of the above for teachers has been enormous. In addition, structural adjustment has done much to diminish their stature and status. Yet apart from students, teachers are the most important part of the education equation. While information technology may require some redefinition of teachers’ roles and relationships, the contemporary social milieu will test the management capability and new ethical questions will extend their capacity to accommodate and respond to different world views. The quality of the teaching force is a critically important factor in the quality of education delivered. While teachers must be held accountable for their stewardship in the schools, they must also have the assurance, support, and level of remuneration that will enhance their performance and secure their dedication.
  • There has been strong grassroots demand for educational reform. Factors fueling this demand are: jobless youth and the devastating effects associated with joblessness; the change in the nature of work by information technology in which menial and routine jobs are more acceptable than manual work; the universal nature of the skills and competencies development permitting international marketing; self employment made possible by virtual reality and other aspects of the information revolution; and the increasing choice of business subjects by students. What this grassroots demand assures is strong participation in the reforms implemented to address the fundamental changes overtaking all societies, including the Caribbean.

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 Commission’s 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 unusual—if not unique—in 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.

Belize’s 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:

  • Improving the quality of primary education.
  • Modernizing the schools and the classrooms through wider use of technology.
  • Rationalizing secondary education through curriculum reform, restructuring admission and promotion procedures, and greater career guidance.
  • Expanding tertiary education, including the use of the distance education modality, and linking this level of education more closely to the labor force demands, especially in the priority economic sectors such as tourism and hospitality services, financial services, light manufacturing, and agro-industry.
  • Increasing and improving foreign language teaching at the secondary and tertiary levels and linking these to the global market place and tourism.
  • Improving the status, salary, and training of teachers.
  • Restructuring the financing of education to increase cost effectiveness and including cost recovery, cost sharing, and special taxes to meet educational expenditure.
  • Introducing various value-oriented projects and materials to influence character formation, promote conflict resolution, and influence the development of wholesome and positive attitudes.
  • Improving the management of schools through the greater involvement of communities and parents and more accountability measures for schools and teachers.
  • Promoting greater partnerships among communities, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and the State in the support and delivery of public schooling.

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:

  • Modernizing schools using information technology;
  • Directing secondary education to a considerable extent, and secondary education to some extent, to the demands and dictates of comparative advantage in the global market place of goods and services;
  • Promoting wholesome values and positive attitudes among youth.

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:

  • Improving primary education mainly by improving school plants, providing text books, and improving the supply of instructional materials. While this applies generally across the sub-region, the countries with large projects in this area–Belize, Guyana, and Jamaica–are those that have lagged behind the sub-region for different reasons.
  • Improving the salary, status, and training of teachers. The Bahamas is leading the way by its bold move to make teaching a graduate profession in that country. While this has long been the case in North America, it is yet to be achieved in the Caribbean. The Jamaican reclassification of the teaching service, which includes the introduction of the Grade of Master Teacher with appropriate salary recognition, is an innovative move directed at enhancing the status of teachers.
  • Improving teaching materials and other instructional resources in the classrooms at both the primary and secondary levels.

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.

Concluding Discussion

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:

  • Education and schooling in the Commonwealth Caribbean was initially organized to achieve religious ends. The motivating force was piety: making right with God, living the Christian life. Its mission was to produce Protestants and their version of Christian society through education. The agency to carry out education was the family, or tutors employed by the family. Those families unable to execute their responsibilities would be the beneficiaries of philanthropy either by the church or better-off individuals who came to their rescue through endowments to create schools. Those excluded, both deliberately and unintentionally, were slaves, women, and the poor. The persons for whom society exercised some conscience were poor White boys, for whose education several endowments were made.
  • In the course of time, society changed and piety waned. Emancipation overtook the society, the enslaved were freed. Education was then coopted as a mobilizing force for social ends. The motivating force was freedom of the previously enslaved. The mission of education was to produce citizens of a free society. The executing agencies were the churches supported by the Imperial Government, the then allies of the ex-slaves. Those excluded unintentionally were the free people of color and the poor Whites. Special educational measures were introduced to address the needs of the poor Whites and the colored middle classes, both male and female.
  • By the end of the nineteenth century, freedom was enshrined in law and unchallenged; free society was firmly established. The sub-region was overtaken by economic decline and the Empire by challenges from emerging industrial powers. The education system was seized by the State, restructured and refocused to serve economic ends. Its rallying theme was agricultural and practical education. Its mission was to improve sugar production for manufacture in the metropole. The executing agency was the Colonial State, assisted by the Churches and backed by the authority of the Impeial State. Those excluded were mainly the Black and Indian peasantry and agricultural workers whose share of the prosperity created by sugar was minuscule, and women engaged in domestic labor. The conscience of the society at this time was directed to women. Special measures were introduced to secure their advancement through education.
  • By the mid-twentieth century, the empire folded. The colonies were liberated. Education was captured to serve political ends. The motivational force was nationalism and nation building. The mission was to produce nationals for new nations: the new Antiguan, Barbadian, Belizean, Bahamian, Grenadian, Jamaican etc. The executing agency was the Nation State. Those excluded were aliens, non-nationals, those not born or naturalized as nationals. Conscience was exercised with respect to the previously disadvantaged. Special educational measures were introduced to expand and increase their access to educational opportunity.
  • At the end of the twentieth century, global changes have overtaken the Nation States in transition just as nationalism begins to wane. The Nation State has exhausted most of its resources. The current attempt is to restructure and refocus education to serve economic ends. The motivating force is material progress. The mission is to produce the consumer and the consumer society. The executing agency is partnership among the states, the private sector, or the individual entrepreneur. Those excluded unintentionally are the poor, those of low consumption. The conscience being exercised is with respect to disadvantaged youth who are virtually unable to earn legally and who are propelled to take illegal avenues to acquire material goals.

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 one’s 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 development—the 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.