The Caribbean recognizes that education is one of the greatest investments any nation can make. This is why the Caribbean education system is based on a foundation of academic excellence and infrastructural growth. It just seems like the right thing to do.
The next best thing would be to encourage the exportation and integration of Caribbean education among institutions of higher learning within the Caribbean, not just for other Caribbean or Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals, but as a product for international export through matriculation pathways with partner universities globally on a vocational and academic scale.
Caribbean Education is the epitome of diversity. With one of the top 50 universities in the world, the University of the West Indies (UWI) is spread over half-dozen islands and boasts of a combined diverse student base.
It is almost a guarantee that there is no better place to get a real-lived education in diversity alongside any major. This is certainly no joke when you see the multi-racial composition of the people of the islands.
Caribbean education is sometimes described as elitist since it is based on ‘first past the post’ system – the common denominator is that the brightest are at the University of the West Indies.
Over 90% of the students come from Caribbean islands with varying economic, social religious and cultural backgrounds – from lower, middle and upper classes, many shades of white, brown, yellow and Black, to Hindus, Muslims, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Christians including Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists and much more.
The focus on education is somewhat of compulsion in the Caribbean. It is one of the highest priorities for governments in the region. Education is compulsory!
Take Trinidad and Tobago, for example. The first Prime Minister after the Islands’ independence in 1962, Dr. Eric Williams, made it mandatory for every child over five years to attend school. He insisted that once they became of age, education was of paramount importance in the development of an educated nation.
In 1960 he wrote, “In such a colony, both in order to form a society and develop a spirit of community; and in order to train the people for self -government, education would have an important role to play.” These words spoken by the “Father of the Nation” still govern Trinidad and Tobago to this day.
Caribbean education is not only compulsory but it is also free. Education is free for all Caribbean citizens between the age of 5 to 17 years. Free education covers kindergarten through to the completion of secondary school. There is also an option for some to receive an additional two years of high school that leads to an advanced level proficiency certificate in preparation for tertiary education.
In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, primary school starts at the age of 5 and students get the opportunity to complete the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) as the pathway to Secondary school.
The SEA examines numeracy, literacy, comprehension skills and reasoning to determine a value to place these students into a suitable Secondary school which then goes on for another 5 years.
Secondary school provides the opportunity for students to become more specialized in vocational and technical programs outside of regular academics (CXC). There is an opportunity to move into Advanced Level studies for an additional 2 years in preparation for University (GCE/CAPE).
Making education a public spending priority has been instrumental in the accumulation of human capital in the Caribbean where the vast majority of the people have benefitted from the investment in education. The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) offers free tuition for students to complete an undergraduate degree and the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) promotes a number of government subsidies towards masters programs, facilitating educational delivery and graduate outcomes.
Trinidad and Tobago, for example, has an education system that is highly developed, free and universal across a range of subjects. The Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) has been very instrumental in promoting a highly educated population to support skills development regionally and internationally.
From time immemorial, there has been a close link between religion and education. Over the years Education in the islands were supported by various religious bodies, particularly the Catholic Church and the Hindu Movement. Many Ivy League boys’ and girls’ schools that take kids through secondary school are funded and run by the Catholic Church with a bit of support from the government and conforms to the local Ministry of Education guidelines on learning outcomes to ensure parity in delivery.
Education in the wider English-speaking Caribbean, is highly reflective of the region’s British colonial past. It is most visible through the examination system.
In Trinidad, there are fully-funded government schools and quasi-funded schools that are supported by churches and religious institutions. The system is based on merit, with the best students selected for higher education at the best schools.
UNESCO published recent statistics that show a literacy rate in the island of Trinidad and Tobago of 96.9% – an exceptionally high literacy rate. Trinidad and Tobago produced some of the best energy talents over the last 100 years. This has contributed to the sheer dynamism that exists in the renewable energy sector, a testimony to the resilience and robustness of Education in Trinidad and Tobago.
According to the OECD PISA score, Trinidad and Tobago’s educational sector is considered one of the highest in the emerging markets and ranks well on the global competitiveness report. Over the last 25 years, education in Trinidad and Tobago has improved greatly especially in the areas of strategic policy and curriculum development. This is directly related to the industry initiatives where the Ministry of Education partners with industry experts honing on skills shortages and learning Inclusive and Integrated outcomes to produce a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce.
Caribbean Education offers an exciting opportunity to gain an experiential degree in culture as you get the chance to live among culturally diverse islands and people. Living in a connected world with invisible geographic borders, students are looking for ways to embrace a truly international life, enriched with culture and expand their horizons. Each country that offers education as an international destination has something interesting to offer, but the Caribbean is unique and possibly one of the best alternatives to become a part of a versatile, integrated and inclusive education system.
Caribbean nationals in positions abroad bring a natural understanding and diversity to any workplace and are valuable assets even as students. Added to this I have often been told that my “Trini” accent is one of the most jovial tones, so I guess we do add flavour and colour to the workplace.
The Caribbean is known for a great number of things. Rich in agriculture, energy exports and sun, sand and sea (tourism). But education is a source of enormous potential. Studying in Trinidad and Tobago is an ideal option for anyone looking at a strong education, rich cultural experience and employability options post graduating. For each of these reasons, Trinidad and Tobago is a destination of choice for international education. Harmonized by Sustainable Development Goal #4 (United Nations), Trinidad and Tobago ensures an inclusive and equitable, high quality education keeping its eyes on “Vision 2030” – the goal being “a modern, relevant and accessible training and education system.”
Education is British-based on the ‘first past the post’ elitist system which means that you are sifted through and MUST pass each stage very well before you go on to higher levels of education. What happens to ‘late developers’ and those that ‘fail’ at academic excellence? Also, like the British system, there is an over-emphasis on academia and less on practical skills.
There is also the problem with small island economies and their incapacity to absorb all of the talents that is created/invested in, resulting not only in the ‘brain drain’ but an inordinately large ‘transfer’ of resources to the rich developing nations. It means that the government invests in talent and the talent goes abroad in search of opportunities. This explains why, for many Caribbean economies, remittances (the money or goods that migrants send back to families and friends in origin countries) are one of the largest sources of foreign exchange. For instance, in Haiti, the Caribbean country most dependant on remittances, the World Bank concluded in 2014 that 21.1% of its GDP was derived from remittances; 15% for Jamaica and 11% for Guyana.
Very recently The International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Caribbean Export Development Agency launched the Caribbean Trade for Sustainable Development (T4SD) Hub which aims to help develop green business models educating micro (small and medium) sized enterprises to become more climate resilient. Their educational and information programs concentrate efforts to lower carbon emissions, waste, recycle and provide access to value chains and green finance. Similar hubs are set up in Nepal, Vietnam, Peru, Kenya and Ghana.
The Caribbean Export company will host the upcoming Hub to develop the expertise and skills necessary for sustainable services. I can easily see how this can be an attractive opportunity for people in the Americas to want to attend to create academic pathways for climate resilience, sustainability, resource efficiency and circular production, promote sustainable products internationally and international value chains.
There will be learning opportunities to share existing tools and provide guidance on how to integrate sustainability practices from an educational perspective. These learning activities will include coaching sessions, webinars and e-learning.
This is probably why attracting direct investments to Caribbean islands contributes to employing talented persons, such as in the Oil and Gas sectors; developing specialist courses and institutions on subjects in high demand, such as on the environment, Chinese language, culture and diversity programmes AND exporting education, can be important options for the sustainable development of Small Caribbean island States.
Dr. Sabeeta Bidasie Singh
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Sabeeta Bidasie Singh is the CEO of Cardinal Services LLC, a Partner in Blockchain for Education. Sabeeta has designed Diversity and Empowerment programs for industry and higher educational institutes in Australia, Malaysia, the USA and the UK, with a commitment to equity and sustained leadership. She is a University Professor in Houston, Texas.
Sabeeta is an advisory board member in areas of Diversity, Empowerment, and Educational Reform in South Africa, Nigeria, Adelaide, Queensland, Kuala Lumpur, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA.