Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday says that despite the “self-praise and boasts” of the government, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has “a lot of ground to make up in our education system”.
In a national address on Wednesday, his second in as many months, Friday gave his recommendations for addressing the situation.
“Plasters and platitudes cannot mask the failure of the system anymore and cannot comfort students and parents who are losing out,” he said, adding that the country must improve conditions in schools by maintaining the buildings regularly so that they don’t become uninhabitable and have to be closed for repair.
“This approach would avoid the spending of millions of dollars to build temporary plywood schools to replace the run-down ones,” the opposition leader said, adding that the money could be better spent in a planned regular maintenance programme and on other amenities.
“Our children are part of the 21st century economy, so our schools must prepare them for it,” he said, adding that the new technologies used in online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic “have opened our eyes to promising possibilities.
“Let us embrace them and integrate them permanently into the way we teach and learn. Giving each child a laptop is not the fulfilment of that objective but merely the beginning of it.”
He said that e-learning also requires reliable high speed internet services in all schools and every home, adding that high speed internet is no longer an optional luxury, but a necessity for education.
“We must upgrade teacher training to make effective use of information technology in everyday teaching. The now familiar platforms and techniques of online learning should not be abandoned just because we have returned to the traditional classroom. Let them be our new normal.”
The opposition leader, who is a former teacher, said there must be attention to “not only about how we teach but also what we teach”.
He said that the present curriculum and programmes do not adequately prepare all students for life.
“I am calling for a comprehensive review of our curriculum at all levels to ensure it supports, challenges, and prepares our children for the future,” he said, adding that for too long, the education system has been focused on traditional academic programmes that culminate with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination and a university degree.
“Our schools should also be equipped to provide and assess students in skills and technical aptitudes needed for jobs and economic development.”
Friday noted that the Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) is part of the process of achieving certified skilled workers, promoted by the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
He, however, said that though the initiative was established in 2007, SVG was only approved to offer CVQ in 2016.
“… and while other CARICOM countries have been offering CVQs at levels 1 & 2 with much success at the secondary school level, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has in effect been offering limited skills training to limited numbers of out-of-school youths,” the opposition leader said.
“Indeed, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been left behind regional counterparts because the necessary instruments to facilitate implementation at the secondary level are not in place.
“So, we see why after 21 years in office, Prime Minister Gonsalves would lament that there are not enough skilled tradespersons to take up jobs in our construction industry and that despite high unemployment here, the government is asked to allow foreign workers to take jobs in hotel construction.”
Friday said that the country must turn this around and he recommended a number of strategies to address the situation.
“Ensure that technical and vocational education is well-integrated within the education system so that every child has the opportunity for a comprehensive education.”
He said that the government should also ensure competency-based curricula linked to the CVQ framework in all secondary schools and other suitable settings in the workplace and the wider community.
The opposition leader also called for the establishment of a qualification framework that enables learners to move seamlessly between “academic” and vocational qualifications in formal and informal educational settings.
He called for the revamping and expansion of the Youth Empowerment Service (YES) programme “to provide opportunity for on-the-job training while earning a living wage”.
There should be increased opportunities for skills development and lifelong learning through vigorous and well-managed continuing education programmes.
In addition to technical and vocational programmes, agriculture must be taught in all primary and secondary schools, Friday said.
“Further, to develop the whole person and promote our culture, art, music, dance and other forms of cultural expression must be regarded not merely as optional courses but as essential components of a modern education. So, they must be taught at all levels and in all schools.
“In keeping with this and the recognised importance of shaping our unique national identity, instruction in the Garifuna language should be made widely available in our schools,” the opposition leader said.