Covid-19 mitigation and containment measures have presented new challenges in education access and delivery and have exacerbated disparities and stratifications across our society. We can wait for the reports from UN agencies to tell us these facts two years from now or we can begin to ask out loud, “what should a post pandemic resilient education system look like for Antigua and Barbuda?”
The future of education under a DNA Administration would immediately accept that the pace of change mandates that we produce a faster, smarter, better grade of human being to power our development. Plain and simple. Better stated, we will craft a system which allows our children to be the best that they can be. Yes, All of them!
We can accept that the traditional education system is largely based on mass production, where teaching methods are inflexible. In the current system, (which by the way has been abandoned by the highly ranked nations in education globally), it is our children who are expected to conform and adjust to a rigid one-size-fits-all system. We essentially bend or break them. A real plantation complex. I offer no apologies for the graphic language because for too many of our children, the education plant is violently abusive, dehumanizing and emotionally barren where individuality, innovation and intellectual autonomy are stripped away. Some of them never recover from the education system. This is a mild take on the trauma many of our children undergo.
Hopefully, COVID-19 has slammed the door shut on this blissful complacency. The mode of talk and chalk is fast becoming extinct, face to face synchronous learning is giving way to blended learning modalities and individualized learning. Project-based learning which combines creativity and collaboration to problem solve difficult questions and tasks and the elevation of social and emotional skills as a priority, are understood as critical skills needed to thrive in the workplace of the future. Put bluntly, a holistic restructuring of the education architecture is needed now more than ever and is tied to the socio-economic survival of this nation. Yes, I am sounding an alarm. The ideas around engaging in and through the education infrastructure or the school plant has evolved. New pedagogical approaches to operating in a new and lightning-fast digital environment are non-comparable in the new age of expansive multivariate and multi textured learning. Antigua and Barbuda, wake up, talk up, catch up!
The DNA is committed to shaping a new economy and new society which is the thrust of our guiding vision. The shaping of the new society requires a more progressive education platform and COVID 19 has presented the opportunity to move us to a more egalitarian education system, which focuses on themes of equity, independent data gathering and analysis, collaboration and integration within the class room and among students, and student driven knowledge and skills acquisition. To fashion a new society, we must begin to move away from engendering the culture of competition and exclusion through a rigid and hyper focus on tests and exams, and move quickly towards a model which incorporates new measures, and new methods of ongoing assessments based on personal targets.
The proliferation of more e-learning platforms, and the way knowledge is shared has undergone a significant shift towards online platforms and quite frankly, the labour market has also undergone a dramatic shift. Technology must be purposefully, strategically integrated into the curriculum with a blended approach to learning; and labour force capacity building should become a key objective in the education system. Let me register here that for a long time in our country, labour and education have never been purposefully linked in our developmental thrust. Think on that for a minute.
I know it is a complex thought. The idea that we must reset the concept of “education”, that we should purposefully close the achievement in gaps and accelerate learning and that we should do this linking education to developmental imperatives. Oh, and by the way, we should do this by liberalizing the concept of education as we know it. Be not alarmed for not only can this be done, it must be done and with a DNA government it will be done!
So, what will change?
- Define the ethos or the theory of change guiding education in Antigua and Barbuda;
- Determine the developmental imperatives of the nation as the foundation that will dictate educational reform;
- Implement a comprehensive Early Childhood Education structure in which every child between the ages of 0 to 3 years will be afforded the opportunity of a government subsidized early childhood education;
- Develop a conceptual strategy for educational reform in Antigua and Barbuda identifying all the elements of the educational system that should be addressed particularly Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET);
- Match and tailor skills and jobs systems for the post-pandemic recovery;
- Scale up, fund and modernize TVET and the creative arts deliberation and dynamism
- Scale up, and provide a critical mass of students versed in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, math;
- Scale up internet access and access to devices;
- Reshape and innovate Special Needs Education;
- Reskill, retool and redeploy our teaching force for the digital era;
- Impart new pedagogical approaches to operating in the new digital environment;
- Establish entrepreneurship labs in every school
- Upscale and incorporate private sector participation in education particularly in TVET;
- Provide parent capacity building;
- Integrate and expand Mental Health and Psycho-social Support Services in Education;
- Improve facilities for lifelong learning through continuing education;
- Erect Community Centres and Libraries as part of the infrastructure of the Parish Councils;
- Reshape education funding models.
Yes, this is but a list, for this is all that can be permitted here and now. The above represent components of what must be a coherent and cohesive strategic plan for education reform and economic development. This is why it is said “the devil is in the details”. Any political party can rattle off this list. They may even speak authoritatively to the issues, but this redevelopment must be powered by conviction and management, not simple aspiration and regurgitation. Nothing here is subliminal!