THE QUESTION was pertinent and timely.
And it was posed almost half century after Barbados emerged from British colonialism to become a sovereign state with a United Nations seat and the assumption of virtual control of its destiny.
The question: Is the nation’s educational system that produced Sir Garry Sobers, Errol Barrow, Grantley Adams, Sir Hugh Springer, Sir Frank Walcott and other National Heroes up to the task of paving the way for the next phase of development, including molding the lives of future heroes?
When Dr Ormond Brathwaite, associate dean of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College answered his own question in New York the other day, he said: “I believe the answer is yes, a resounding yes.”
Interestingly, his assessment came at a time when Barbados was celebrating its Golden Jubilee of Independence; National Heroes Day; and its teachers’ unions and the Minister of Education Ronald Jones seem locked in verbal combat over teacher safety in the classroom and the way the entire educational system was being managed or mismanaged, depending on your point of view.
Brathwaite, 60, who was born in Parish Land, Christ Church, but raised in St. Patrick’s where he traced the roots of his initial interest in science, doesn’t believe the school system back home was “flawed” but contends it was in dire need of being “energised,” a point he made in an interview after delivering a Heroes Day lecture at Brooklyn’s St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church whose Rector is the Very Rev Eddie Alleyne, a Bajan and a rural dean of the Long Island Diocese.
The energy Brathwaite has in mind would include providing teachers with additional opportunities for professional development; offering students more guidance counselling; placing greater emphasis on discipline; and heightening the presence of religious leaders in schools.
“I don’t believe it is the role of the teacher or professor to find the hero (of tomorrow) but instead to nurture all of the students in his or her classroom, hoping that every mind is a future leader,” he said.
The college and university professor of biochemistry for almost 25 years cited the case of Sir Garfield, the lone surviving National Hero, to emphasise two things: his Bajan school teacher “could not have predicted the national status to which he has risen;” and “our heroes lie in every sector of the population.”
Just as important, teachers do play an essential role in their development.
Brathwaite, who holds science degrees, including a PhD awarded by the City University of New York, recommended several key steps his birthplace could take to keep its educational system ahead of the proverbial game:
• Continue insisting on mandatory primary and secondary education for all.
• Infusing its system “with a healthy dose of technology and sustainability.”
• Focusing more attention on entrepreneurship so that “our young people” would “develop their own jobs.”
• Provide teachers with more opportunities for professional development.
• Create a programme that encourages mentoring for new teachers at every school.
• Bajans engaged in higher education abroad could be encouraged to “offer study abroad for emerging scholars.”
“I challenge the Government of Barbados and its institutions to begin thinking about offering young creative students of the island, creative space that fuses their creativity with entrepreneurship,” said Brathwaite, a Fulbright scholar.
Dr Donna Hunte-Cox, Barbados’ Consul-General in New York whose Government office sponsored the Heroes Day lecture, zeroed in on the elements of heroism, asserting that Barbados’ National Heroes “did not set out to be heroes,” but were elevated to it by their selflessness and “inherent desire” to help others.
Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: Bestra@aol.com