The highly intelligent child is equally likely to be born in the hut of the poor as in the mansion of the wealthy. It is this realisation which informs progressive state-funded education policies which start from the premise that no child with potential should be denied a university education.
The main consequence of the decision by the Government of Barbados to impose the cost of tuition fees on its citizens is that the bright poor have been denied an education. Currently, tertiary education exists only for those who can afford the tuition fees. This is both socially and morally reprehensible, and may have untold consequences for the future social and economic stability of Barbados.
It is now becoming clear that in its quest to acquiesce to its neo-liberal advisors from within and its International Monetary Fund bosses from without (none of whom incidentally are courageous enough to face the polls), the Government of Barbados has missed the chance of preserving the access of education for the poor, and at the same time reducing the Government’s expenditure.
All intelligent politicians strive to achieve “win-win” situations. In its narrow focus on “reducing expenditure” only, the Government has chosen to ignore a neat and more socially palatable alternative which would have both reduced expenditure and safeguarded access to the bright poor.
Since those who can afford to pay will pay, as is currently happening, the Government could have taken a decision to offer full scholarships to a capped number of students based on the strength of their academic qualifications.
In that way, the bright poor who exist at every level of our education system would have been covered into the university level. Alongside that group would have been the numbers who currently drive themselves to school in bulging SUVs, but who are not necessarily the brightest, and for whom the Government’s new policy has been “no problem”.
Such a policy would have preserved the Government’s social-democratic legacy, defended its claims to being committed to free education, and would have ensured a reduced expenditure based on the fact that a wider cross-section of the population, those who could afford to pay, would have been shouldering the burden of their education.
That way, there would have been an honest commitment to the slogan of “no child left behind”.
Alas, such finely tuned social policy can only occur when our rulers are truly their own bosses. When policy is being dictated by neo-liberal ideologues both within and without, and when our leaders lack the intellectual depth and will to defend social democracy, the result is the abandonment of the poor.
The bright poor, who through education have risen to the highest levels of society, is indeed a Caribbean tradition. A progressive leadership would assiduously avoid the blame for ending that tradition.
Let wisdom prevail!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs.