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By Gumbsie
Just over a year ago, it was announced by the Prime Minister that a new Ministry of Tertiary Education was being created, with the Prime Minister himself assuming that portfolio.
There were many questions that could have been asked then: Was the creation of a new Ministry an indictment on the competency of the Minister of Education? Was Ralph Gonsalves, then 76, a competent person to head this new Ministry of Tertiary Education?
Surely, education has changed over the years. And one would assume that in the 1970s when Gonsalves was a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, they were using chalk and blackboard and typewriters. But today you have online teaching, with numerous teaching aids or tools such as computers, digital white board, Quiz Maker, test scanner, spreadsheet programmes, interactive games, etc.
Recently, the prime minister announced that 26 national scholarships were being awarded at a cost of $600,000 each, amounting to a total of $15.6 million. This author is in full support of training Vincentians, but at what cost? This enormous expenditure on scholarships can be contrasted to the backdrop where the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) does not have a multipurpose auditorium and a production centre. Moreover, exams at that institution are conducted in the lecture theatres, a nightmare for invigilators because it is virtually impossible to traverse those rows, to check on students and the possibility of cheating. Furthermore, the college lacks a production centre where students can photocopy materials and ring bind projects, etc.
Another contentious decision by this government is the building of a science laboratory on lands next to the UWI Global Campus in Kingstown. More interestingly, students from the SVGCC will be utilising that modern science lab also. This can be further illuminated by the fact that students who pursue studies at the UWI Global Campus do so in the afternoon or evening. So the question has to be asked: is it not more appropriate to situate the science lab at the SVGCC campus and have students from UWI Global Campus utilise the facility located at Glen?
The prime minister also spoke of a need to bring lecturers from other countries to strengthen academic learning, adding a new dimension to and a different perspective to such learning. That may be true but St Vincent and the Grenadines does not have a university, so why do we need foreign lecturers here?
Recently, it was announced by the government that adult and continuing education (ACE) will be brought under the umbrella of the SVGCC. Another pertinent question can be raised: are the objectives of those two institutions the same? For instance, ACE focuses on literacy, numeracy and short-term skills training while the SVGCC focuses on academic learning and skills training on a longer-term basis, with the view to making a transition to a university. For example, if ACE offers a three-month course in dress-making or cake-decoration, how does that fit in with the schema of and transition to the Community College?
Not so long ago, the Minister of Primary and Secondary Education noted that mistakes were made in the past, speaking to the fact that less emphasis was placed on technical and vocational education. Another question to be preferred: Is the short-sightedness in tech-voc education the reason we have a shortage of skilled workers in SVG? Furthermore, is that the reason why 300 workers from the Dominican Republic came to work on the construction site at Sandals?
Undoubtedly, the Unity Labour Party government has deepened education training for Vincentians, which started under the New Democratic Party. But to what avail? Are we training Vincentians willingly, without any development objectives to be met by this training? Is it to strengthen our hospitality sector? Is it to strengthen our agricultural sector? For instance, how many extension officers are being trained at the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry — now part of the University of Trinidad and Tobago — a forerunner to going on to the Faculty of Agriculture, UWI? Another pertinent question is: how many of these scholarships are in the natural sciences? Certainly not many!
In summation, we can answer the aforementioned questions with a question: Do we have someone managing the affairs of tertiary education, who is not left behind by developmental and technological changes in education?

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