The case for Barbados as the premier destination of choice for investors can be made on a number of factors. This article however, seeks to look specifically at the emphasis placed on quality education at the national level and the impact that this has on Barbados’ attractiveness to investors.
Barbados is considered an emerging economy, geographically situated in the Eastern Caribbean. As part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, a political union, it is considered among the three most developed and infrastructurally sophisticated states in the 15 member union the other two being Jamaica and Trinidad. Having no abundance of natural resources, Barbados has managed to secure this distinction based on good governance and the quality of its human resources, with education playing a pivotal role in the development of the latter. Boasting a literacy rate of 99.7% and a world ranking of 5 (United Nations Development Programme Report 2009) it is noteworthy that Barbados ranks higher than first world countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America who both share a ranking of 21.
The country has long been perceived as having a robust education system. Indeed as far back as pre independence, Barbados had been known for its vibrancy with regard to educating its populace. In post independence years, education has been used as vehicle to empower and enfranchise the masses and propel the country towards economic development.
Understanding that access to education is linchpin to its development, Barbados has over the years embarked on a number of measures to ensure that it continues to create a cadre of highly skilled and trainable individuals.
One such measure is ensuring that quality education is accessible to all. A modern Education Act in 1981 mandated that education, from the primary level to the tertiary level, is free to all Barbadian citizens regardless of age, sex, class, religion or ability. Further it definitively articulated that there must be compulsory attendance at school for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. The introduction of the school meals programme in 1963 and free transportation for school children in 2008 were designed to minimise any challenges or impediments to attending school. These actions have yielded dividends with the majority of students graduating from secondary schools with Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Certificates and over 80% going on to the country’s tertiary level institutions: the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, the Barbados Community College and the University of the West Indies. It is this accessibility to knowledge that, in large measure, has resulted in the enviable perception of Barbados as the destination of choice for doing business.
While there have been successes, the Ministry of Education is not content to rest on its laurels. According to the White Paper on Educational Reform (1995) the major challenges, which are in part the result of changes in the economy and the labour market, remain the improvement of educational quality and the reduction of the lag in the reform of the educational system to keep pace with economic and technological change. As such, the education
system in Barbados has undergone extensive, holistic reformation in an effort to ensure that students acquire knowledge that is purposeful and relevant to the development needs nationally and globally.
Among its objectives for the reform initiative were:
- preparing citizens for the responsibility of nation-building;
- revaluing the role of education in the sphere of national development;
- reinforcing the concept that learning is a continuous, life-long process;
- developing a workforce that is equipped to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and that is readily retrainable;
- ensuring equity in the delivery of education and equality of opportunity in the access to education; and
- enabling students to develop enquiring and creative minds.
These objectives speak to a commitment to improving the relevance and quality of the curriculum with a view to preparing students for the increasing dynamism of the global environment.
In comparison with many of the other Caribbean countries, Barbados’ educational reform initiatives have proven to be effective and sustainable. In large measure this may be as a result of the two main theories that underpin the philosophy of the reform programmes which are the theory of Constructivism and that of child-centred learning. According to the UNESCO International Bureau of Education’s country report on Barbados, captioned the Development of Education, these approaches require teachers to now “teach in ways that make information meaningful and relevant to students by giving opportunities to discover or apply ideas themselves and by teaching students to be aware if and consciously use their own strategies of learning. The Ministry of Education has ensured the execution of the reform process through encouraging leadership responsibility at all levels; including the acute responsibility of principals in championing the process in order to achieve higher success rates. While in many instances and at various levels of the system these modalities are now beginning to take firm root, manifestations of the benefits of the approach are evident.
With the private sector and the trade unions firmly in agreement with the government on a number of development goals, including education, and with an approximate spend of 6.9% of its GDP on education (higher than the USA or the UK), the agenda in Barbados is clear, education is a national imperative. Given the fact that a highly skilled labour force is a vitally important determinant for FDI, such a strong national commitment to quality education makes Barbados a clear choice for companies looking to invest in a developing economy.