The Scarlet Pimpernel Blog
Tuesday, 31 August 2010 06:56
By The Scarlet Pimpernel
In this new era of ubiquitous computerization, unforeseen advancements in technology, and globalization, the economic recovery and future prosperity of Antigua & Barbuda is inextricably linked to the creation of inventive mechanisms that can successfully secure long-term productivity and growth, none of which can be assured unless the government effectively empowers its most precious national resource, its human capital.
Hence, investment in the creation of a twenty-first century education system is at the heart of our economic recovery and future prosperity; it is the key enabler that will position Antigua & Barbuda as an innovative, competitive, knowledge-based economy that can compete and gain currency in global markets.
Many factors influence a nation’s long-term prosperity, including natural resources, capital base, its use of technology, and the size and skill level of its workforce. While the government plays an important role in setting the conditions that facilitate economic success, sound economic management and practicable strategies that enhance competitiveness to capture global markets are prerequisites for growth and prosperity. But after all is said, our economy cannot reach its full potential unless the government creates the educational framework for extensive improvements in human productivity.
Whether it is through focussing on literacy levels, improving retention rates, or increasing the average number of years spent in institutions of learning, there is overwhelming evidence that better educated economies are wealthier. Countries that invest in education do better in achieving their potential economic growth. Beyond economic goals, societies with a strong commitment to education also enjoy higher levels of civic participation in community and religious groups, greater social cohesion and integration, lower levels of crime and social disadvantage, and a more trusting, equitable, and just society.
Antigua & Barbuda enjoyed a long period of economic growth and prosperity dating back to the period of the previous government. Albeit, global economic conditions are always changing and the conditions that created the prosperity we enjoyed have evaporated; if we are to ever revive the economy and see high standards of living in the future, we must adapt to changing global conditions. Antigua & Barbuda continues to suffer as a result of significant decline in the tourism industry, which contributed immeasurably to our past prosperity, but the deafening bugle call to diversify the economy is mounting. Indeed, there is increasingly intense competition in the global economy in services and knowledge industries; however, we cannot continue to tolerate a static vision of Antigua & Barbuda as nothing more than a “high end” vacation destination for North American and Western European tourists.
Neither can we countenance the blatant bigotry, nor fail to recognize the negative economic ramifications inherent in a national immigration policy that favours providing refuge for migrants from China, Syria and Lebanon, who regularly repatriate the bulk of their takings, meanwhile demonizing, hunting down and deporting Caribbean nationals, Guyanese and Jamaicans in particular, whose impact on the economy is manifestly less debilitating. The only secure pathway to a prosperous future in the unfolding global economy is to create an environment in which all people living in Antigua & Barbuda can realize their potential, and to give all residents an equal opportunity to contribute to the advancement of the economy.A New National Vision of Education
The government needs a long-term plan for education and a shift in focus that views education as an economic investment as opposed to social expenditure. The necessity to embrace fresh cost effective strategies to create a relevant, new world education system and demand high quality results in return for the investment must be appreciated. There is clear consensus in the education research that well-trained, effective teachers, accountability at all levels of the system, adequate funding, small classrooms, computers and interactive teaching resources are the most important components of an effective education system. The government has ignored this well-known reality to the detriment of our students and the economy for too long, NOW is the time to empower our human capital through investing in education. Even as a footnote, I must mention the enormous value of including early childhood education (ages 3 to 5) as a priority in any discussion of reforming our school system.
If Antigua & Barbuda is to turn its economy around and achieve respectable levels of workforce performance, productivity and growth, the government must divorce politics from education; stop blaming teachers, students, parents and the past administration, when it is shrewdly disguised duplicity, wasteful spending and lack of ingenuity that continues to retards the education system. One example, the millions that the government parted to Minister Mansoor and his cohort at ACT for the highly acclaimed, unconscionably overpriced mobile classrooms were sufficient to give every primary school student in Antigua and Barbuda a brand new tablet computer (US $200.00 each for school systems worldwide from Asus); and fully equip them with electronic textbooks and exciting multimedia educational software, which are demonstrably more effective than untrained teachers in motivating students’ innate thirst for knowledge, particularly in the areas of mathematics and the sciences. This is the kind of seemingly well intentioned “tactical” spending in education that has deprived our children of the millions needed to provide them with adequate infrastructure and the educational resources they need to become competitive in the new global environment.
It cannot be overstated that meaningful investment in classroom computers is indispensable to the new education system that we require; the necessary investment can be supplemented in large part, from savings garnered by eliminating wasteful spending on outmoded ideas like paper textbooks, which has become a government fiddle to channel funds from the Board of Education to select crony textbook suppliers. We live in a world where there are hundreds of stimulating “open source” (free) textbooks and educational software online, particularly in mathematics and science from which our children could benefit if they all had twenty-first century educational prerequisites, of which the most important is computers. Notably, electronic textbooks that cannot be acquired without cost can generally be sourced for 60% less than paper textbooks.
Moreover, the content for many required textbooks can be created (assembled) locally by working groups of teachers, over the summer vacation. A full explanation of exactly HOW easily this can be accomplished will be provided in a subsequent writing, but I will summarize by saying we can simply divide our best teachers into groups according to areas of expertise, and using the various existing textbooks in each subject as a guide (inspiration), create and digitize required course material, topic by topic and group them into modules for different class levels.
The end result of my proposal is the creation of a relevant “homegrown” knowledge ecosystem of topics for every subject taught in our system; a series of national texts available to the whole education system that can be copied, modified, printed and updated as required. Imagine mathematics teachers at all levels of the system having access to every math topic from counting to calculus to continually challenge our students to improve test scores. This strategy could be applied with equal efficacy for the other subject areas from our primary schools to Antigua State College.
Rather than proffer polished political prattle about not having money to train teachers or build and properly equip new schools, the government should consider the long term, cost effective option of securing a franchise for training teachers and aspirants via satellite, increasing teachers’ salaries and requiring them to work full eight hour days and summers like other public servants. To address the problem of overcrowded schools we need only to have two shifts at the existing public schools; I propose 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 5: 30 p.m. This system works very well for colleges and universities all over the world and is widely adopted at the primary and secondary level in Asia and Latin America to get the most out of their scarce education resources.
Clearly, what is needed is not just a higher level of investment in education, but making sure that current investment in education is used much more efficiently. With new education policies, future workers will be able to work smarter, not just harder. That will allow us to build new businesses that can compete in global markets, and win.Ideas Solve Crisis
To succeed in the information economy, it is quintessential that we set a new national vision for Antigua and Barbuda to become one of the most educated countries in the world with a highly skilled and well-trained workforce. The crucial need for a strong base of knowledge, skills and expertise was acknowledged by the long-serving former chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan thusly, “[o]ver the past half-century, the increase in the value of raw materials has accounted for only a fraction of the overall growth of US gross domestic product. The rest of that growth reflects the embodiment of ideas in products and services that consumers value. This shift of emphasis from physical material to ideas as the core of value creation appears to have accelerated in recent decades… Ideas are at the centre of productivity and growth.”
For Antigua & Barbuda to become competitive in the global economy, we must find sources of competitive advantage. Investment in our human capital is essential for creating an innovative, productive workforce that can adapt to a rapidly changing world. The successful economies of the future will be those that can add the most value, through human effort and ingenuity, to their traditional strengths in every sector. Our service economy exposes us to new competitive opportunities, but current policy settings are not enough to prepare Antigua & Barbuda for the challenges that lie ahead. Understanding the nature and foundations of productivity is central to the challenge of economic recovery into the second decades of the twenty first century.
A new direction is essential for sustained productivity, growth and competitive advantage on the new global playing field. Investing systematically in the capabilities of our people can multiply the opportunities to build on our existing strengths, and compensate for decline in traditional areas of economic activity. Antigua & Barbuda cannot afford to waste its human talents and potential and be left behind in this era of globalization. To be just “good enough” is no longer acceptable in any area of our national performance, we must be up there leading the region. Education is the platform on which our future economic prosperity will rest; it should be the focus for our future aspirations and the first priority for immediate investment and reform.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the nom de plume of an Antiguan born “knowledge broker” whose intercontinental exploits involve work as a university founder and educator, military strategist, international legal consultant, United States prosecutor, published author, trade advisor in Latin America and international investment counselor.
The inimitable acuity of the “Pimpernel” is sought after by entrepreneurs, investors and governments from Dubai to Brazil. Recent work, created for Latin America, which speaks to the conjunction of technology and education to reduce cost, motivate students and improve testing results will be translated and introduced to school systems across the Caribbean later this year. “Employing anonymity to domesticate the ego ...”