Barbados is a physically small country by any measure; nonetheless with its population size estimated at 277,821 as of May 2010, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. With extremely limited natural resources and a restricted domestic market, successive governments have maintained educational investments in the country’s human capital. “It is clear that successive Barbadian governments have appreciated the positive relationship between human welfare and development and this has led to the consistent and substantial allocation of resources to the social services.”
A report published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in June 2001, noted Barbados as having a narrow human resource base, this implied “that a small number of persons had to carry out a wide range of functions; in effect, a small country like Barbados tends to have a large number of generalists and few specialists.” It is noteworthy to mention that Professor Andrew Downes, who consulted with ECLAC on the compilation of the report, is Barbadian and completed his tertiary education up to the Masters level within Barbados.
In continuation, the aforementioned concern was specifically addressed in the National Strategic Plan of Barbados 2005- 2025, where one of the six strategic points for national development outlined: “Placing people at the heart of the development process…This involves the development of the human resources necessary to function in a knowledge-based services economy…it calls for a revolution in education which will unlock the productive potential of all Barbadians.” Despite a change of administrations since the release of this publication it can be firmly argued that the successive government sees the continued investment and development of Barbados’ human capital as a top priority. This was cemented by the release of “The Barbados Human Resource and Development Strategy 2011 – 2016,” by the successive Governmental administration. The document thoroughly outlines the strategic plans for: creating an enabling environment for Human Resource Development and creating a demand driven educational system among other topics. Strategic guidance and dedication is imperative however, investment, implementation and reaping actual rewards is what conveys that all of the above is worthwhile.
With the Barbadian educational system being modelled after the British system, it can boast of producing one of the highest levels of education in the English speaking Caribbean. Furthermore, with the ability to educate and transition students from nursery to tertiary education all within its borders, Barbados has produced a highly educated society thus far.
Prime examples of the calibre of human capital emerging from Barbados are: Professor Henry Fraser GCM, BSc (Physiology), MBBS, PhD (Pharmacology), FACP, FRCP as well as, Principal of the University of the West Indies and internationally reputed Historian Pro Vice Chancellor; Professor; Sir Hilary Beckles; both were educated at the primary and secondary level in the island.
In an attempt to heighten national standards and reach international ones, the curricula of educational institutions have undergone significant changes over the years; broadening the scope at the primary and secondary levels and aiming for more specificity at tertiary levels. The primary goal being to produce more specialists and less generalists, whilst simultaneously exposing students to as many areas as possible.
Veering away from traditional and general areas of study, areas such as liberal arts, fine arts and health sciences are programme options offered by the Barbados Community College. There has also been the reworking and/or introduction of specialized undergraduate and graduate programmes by the University of the West Indies; this has occurred across all faculties! These programs not only have high subscription rates but the graduate percentages are equally gratifying. Apart from the more academic programmes, the Technical Vocational Education and Training Council of Barbados, as well as, The Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic, provide practical training options for students to earn certifications in technical areas. There are also specialized facilities and institutions for students experiencing any of the following challenges: speech and language impairment, physical impairment, visual impairment, learning difficulties and mental challenges.
The structure of the educational system is no doubt sound, nonetheless; one concern which has been raised is the lack of exposure of students to working environments. Most recently however, in an attempt to bridge one of the few remaining gaps in maintaining an educationally rich nation, the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and the University of the West Indies signed a Memorandum of Agreement. It is hopeful that this memorandum opens communication channels between students and enterprises, allowing for more internships and/or workplace experience to occur, thus further building the capacity and the skill of the students and by extension, the nation.
It has been recognized internally and externally how intricately woven Barbados’ development and its human capital are. This is not to suggest that the human development factor acted as a silo in aiding the nation’s overall development. However recognition that continued investment has resulted in steady growth is important! With meticulous strategic plans in place and strong institutions across the nation the depth and wealth of our human capital ought to only become richer!