Thursday, April 18, 2024

ON THE RIGHT: Falling further behind in innovation


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Numbers don’t lie. Barbados’ ranking on the Human Development Index is now at number 38. Though this is still quite an impressive standing, it marks a downward trend since the mid-1990s.
In any small business or Fortune 1000 company, this indicator would be a call for serious concern, action and remedial intervention. The evidence is there that Barbados continues to be stifled by project implementation deficit, sluggish systemic reforms and an entrenched conservatism that brings political will, desire and evaluated performance to an almost grinding halt.
As an educator, lifelong learner and owner of a business built on sharing knowledge, I continue to be appalled and shocked at the primacy of form over content or the structure over substance that plagues the evolution of the country’s education system.
In the early 1990s, a colleague of mine, Gino, would go on to win the prestigious Barbados Scholarship and would later confess that when he entered a Canadian university classroom as a teenager, he felt stupid next to his Canadian peers because he was so far behind in terms of his computer literacy. Mind you, he was at the top of Barbados’ educational food chain.
How is it that a country that ranks so high on the Human Development Index can rank so low in terms of global competitiveness or even our ability to facilitate business? In the 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Report, Barbados ranks number 81 for our capacity for innovation and on the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business Report, we come in at number 91, way behind St Lucia which scores the highest in the Caribbean region at number 64.
Numbers certainly don’t lie. “Houston, there’s a big problem!”
Unfortunately, what should have been heralded as the mega-project that would catapult us into the 21st century was strategically undermined at every step of the way by these very agents of reactionary blindness. They so stifled the Education Sector Enhancement Programme, familiarly known as EduTech, that Barbados today remains uncompetitive in its school system from primary right through to the tertiary level.
Amazingly that teachers are still using green boards and chalk while most children possess a computer at home. The stunning astonishment was further compounded to me when a masters student told me in 2002 that she “could not think in front of a computer”.
My heart bled knowing that this individual would return to the job market with a postgraduate degree to lord over her subjects all the while boasting of her academic achievements with the framed diploma on her wall to prove it. The scariest part is that these are the ones charged with the duty of making policy. So now you understand why EduTech 2000 was severely undermined and doomed to failure.
How radical would it be to give each child in school a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop and 24-hour Wi-Fi access?
How radical would it be for Government agencies to channel 50 per cent of their project funding to the University of the West Indies to develop software solutions in conjunction with the world’s best schools in order to come up with solutions needed by our people? Solutions like a single computerized ID card or an amalgamated system that links all our social bio-data required to access social services.
Ian Walcott-Skinner is a partner/ consultant at Global Experts Systems Inc.


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