Traditionally on our local calendar after the merriment of Crop Over is ended, the focus turns to education. Tertiary programmes are expected to formally resume later this month, while primary and secondary schools reopen in September.
This will be the first time in a few years that Barbadians registering at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill campus, will pursue university education tuition free, while the textbook loan scheme in operation means that secondary schooling continues to be affordable. It is hoped that our citizens understand the benefits of these provisions and their importance, particularly since they are not readily available worldwide.
Opposing sides of the political directorate in Barbados have always recognised the value of education and fostered its development over the years. Indeed, this country has been ahead of the Millennium Development Goals, part of which advocate for free, basic education of children. This social service has empowered a country with no resources to perform exceptionally well on the world stage. Many Barbadians of poor backgrounds have used education as a vehicle for social mobility. At the secondary level, for example, parents receive a welcome financial ease, benefiting from a small payment of petty fees and textbook loan scheme which reduces the burden of secondary schooling significantly. While parents assume the cost of books at the primary level, there are school meals offered to children at a nominal fee per week. Further, at both the primary and tertiary level, bus fares on the government-operated transport service are free.
However, in more recent times, that “freeness” has been severely impacted at the tertiary level. Then Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler, indicated that from 2014 Barbadian students would have to pay their own tuition fees, across the university’s three campuses. At that time, Sinckler cited the rising costs of university education, which when removed, should have saved government $42 million per year. In honouring one of the promised manifesto pledges of the Barbados Labour Party in this year’s general elections, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley announced the reinstatement of government’s provision; once again, the state will shoulder the tuition responsibility of students from this coming school year.
Having said all the above, it is critical that students realise their good fortune and seek to make the best use of it. It is distressing to see what we believe to be a minority of children abuse the system. Acts of vandalism on school buses, in classrooms, schools or textbooks and in public or private institutions by children must be dealt with seriously, including having the guilty ones repair what they’ve damaged and perform community acts to atone for their destruction. In addition, anecdotally there have always been university students who turned up for fetes and dominoes, with hardly any studying done in the interim, resulting in them stretching out a three-year degree over four and five years. This can no longer be borne, not when the state is footing the bill.
In these stringent times, we must be grateful for what we still have, and note those around the world who can’t afford to attend school or must work for their families. Education is more than just securing a good job; it is a means by which children can achieve their highest potential, and make basic, well-informed decisions in their best interests, from health to reproductive care. And it also has a hefty price tag. Let’s ensure we appreciate and further strengthen our system for future generations to come and ensure our young ones also make the best use of their time while in school.