Education: A gateway out of poverty

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Dr Alphonsus St Rose is a consultant physician (internal medicine), internist and gastroenterologist. He is a member of the American College of Gastroenterology and can be reached at: stroserae@gmail.com

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By Dr Alphonsus St Rose – Independent candidate – Choiseul/Saltibus

Constituents of Choiseul/Saltibus, people of Saint Lucia.

It is with great interest and yet a sense of guarded optimism that I reflect upon the past months of a journey riddled with an entrenched and disparaging culture of tribalism, hopelessness, and divisiveness. Our political parties, akin to the adage, pot calling kettle black…mem bet mem pwel.

My disquiet was made worse having listened to the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) endorsed candidate for Choiseul/Saltibus, deliver her maiden national discourse, on a subject matter at the core of her existence-education. Her dissertation, insipid, both on substance and critical analysis and it lacked an in-depth approach on how we ought to develop and position our human capital so our citizens can now become the principal beneficiaries of a 21st-century education platform.

Perhaps poignantly so, for having been an educator for most of her professional life yet unable to debride a decaying education system of which she was an integral decision-maker, is beyond belief.

But until now, successive governments have not made any fundamental game-changing shifts in our education system, which, of necessity, must be rooted in a vision and context relevant to today, but with a view to preparing us for the future. It must connect us to the brain-power industries and other businesses that run the economies of the world, while enabling us to efficiently make the critical decisions in an informed manner on the things that matter most to us.

This required that governments pass policies that promote genuine equality of opportunity to health, education, and economic inclusion as well as a structure of incentives to allow our people a necessary platform for growth, development, and progress. It is about time we become the number one priority in our country with our leaders working in our best interest.

Our human capital is the single most important asset for competitive advantage in today’s knowledge-based economy. Our public policies in education, like healthcare, must inspire hope and trust in a secure and sustainable future.

The urgency to develop quality human capital (through equal access to health and education) is most critical to the poor and disadvantaged citizens as a pathway out of poverty, inequality, and social injustice. A platform that will prepare them not only for “LIFE” but will also diminishes social polarization, unemployment, and wage inequality, while augmenting the median household affluence as they and especially their children seize and navigate the redistribution of opportunities that will emerge.

This demands a re-thinking, a re-educating of our educators, decision-makers and communities as well as re-defining our education platforms to a point of appreciation of where the world is going. This is what will keep our education system relevant. We must determine what defines an educated Saint Lucian; for what purpose, as well as the factors that impede us from fully benefitting from education.

We cannot expect to fully benefit from our education system while having it divorced from discipline and character building. We must identify whose and what purpose our education system serves. It is important that we understand our benefits as well as who benefits most from it.

We must tweak our education system to create a culture of entrepreneurship among our people and that must be passed on to succeeding generations of our people while teaching them how to keep generational wealth. Education must prepare and move us from being mere consumers, to owners of the means of production. That would mean probably making business and history critical components in our education curriculum.

Some of our elected leaders in many a circumstance have been poor negotiators on our behalf, wilfully or inadvertently. And this all stems from poor business insight which takes us back to our education system lagging the shrewd thinking of those who come to our shores fully aware of our poor business acumen and poor negotiating skills.

The absence of contextual history teaching is also dangerous. If you do not know your history, your journey, you probably will not understand your present circumstances. Our national consciousness and ethos must be predicated in part on that journey. It has always been incumbent upon the educators and decision-makers to implement these very important aspects to our education system; but their failure to do that appropriately is the reason why today we are suffering the consequences.

It matters not how many computers we put in our schools, (as important as they are), as if the mindset that maintains the current status quo does not change, nothing will.

After all, the introduction of technology and the use of computers in our education system is an imperative because everything today happens in that digital domain. However, the advent of technology in our education system must create for us a competitive advantage or at least an opportunity to compete.

Our diverse socio-economic realities of the constituency, informs and colours our political preferences in such a manner and to such an extent that the existing disparities and inequities makes it increasingly difficult for us to come together on issues of reform, mutual consensus and benefit.

The longer the social stigmatization continues, the more costly it becomes to remedy, given that our decision-makers and politicians lack the appetite and moral courage to accept the higher initial costs for future long-term societal gains.

Why did we have to wait for COVID-19 for us to do anything remotely close to virtual learning? Smartboards which come with educational programs have been in existence for years making this easy to do. So, what were our educators thinking?

And now with the advent of tablets in the schools, why do parents still have to be buying all these schoolbooks? Putting the books online and supplying tablets should have been done simultaneously for universal accessibility to education at all levels.

Who then might be profiting from a system that continues to force poor people to keep buying schoolbooks year after year after year? Why didn’t the educators and the decision-makers in education see it fit to address this unnecessary and unfair burden on the poor people?

Let us push for the widespread use of technology in our education system as the best way to bring and keep us abreast with the rest of the world; but simply moving info from the book to the computer without the necessary mindset that creates necessary change is not enough.

The principles, values, discipline, and character that foments success in life starts early. Early childhood education is key to sustaining the brainpower of this country and is important because there are the most formative years for any child. Schools must therefore be centers of social interaction, reform, and character building for the long haul.

Teachers must be trained to handle these critical and integrative responses to the present realities of our society. Hopefully, this will help shape who we are as a people in a developing nation. Access to information is all good but to be able to critically think, analyze and interpret information is vital to our survival as a people. Where and how do the differently abled and challenged citizens fits into all of this is also important.

The SLP’s endorsed candidate lacks a clear transformative vision both for the Choiseul/Saltibus constituency and the nation’s citizens as a whole. Whether in education or otherwise, she speaks to a level of unpreparedness to represent. We can ill afford such luxury of non-thinkers or surrogates at the decision-making table, more so in this critical COVID-19 and a post-COVID-19 time in our history.

Where was Pauline Antoine-Prospere when this administration withdrew the laptop and subvention programmes that had been in place to assist the working-class children of this country?

Where was Pauline when this administration commenced its policy shift towards privatization of education, touting how education should no longer be seen as a social good but rather as a driver of the economy?

All of this happened on her watch as a passive decision-maker in this current administration. Not once having taken a public stand to advocate for or stand in defense of our working-class children of Choiseul/Saltibus, let alone the nation. This is the sine qua non of poor and dismal representation.

It is an indisputable fact that our poor communities are the ones with the worst health, education, and social justice outcomes. We must stop fooling our people, telling them they can be that which we do not give them the opportunity to be. Optimism must be both possible and practical, particularly when we consider how inequalities in education and health have translated to declining options and opportunities. A culture is very difficult to defend as not intentional and wanton.

The privatization of our education spaces, like healthcare, only serves to widen the disparity and inequity gaps through its naturally built-in lack of equal opportunity framework. It is for this reason that reductions of social inequities in education must be an important aspect of shaping public education policies and initiatives.

The social good arising out of a properly derived education policy structure should have as its end-point the building of a superior human resource capacity and capital. This, in turn, can now be used innovatively and entrepreneurially to energize and drive a sustainable and productive economy for all.

While a mind is indeed a terrible thing to waste, the presence and persistence of poverty and inequality as well as the accompanying health, education and social disparities and injustices are the moral imperatives that drive me to fix the plight and lot of the common man in my constituency and the nation, the legacy being, a new psyche, the new soul and essence of us as a people.

My role is to work towards giving you and your children a future; one that is secure and sustainable. We cannot inspire our people into thinking that the only gateway to success, equality of opportunity, to access health, education, economic inclusion and social justice is inheritance, political patronage, normalization of deviance, cheating or a tolerance for corruption.

Related: Truth matters in Choiseul/Saltibus

Choiseul/Saltibus Team St Rose

 

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