The George Brathwaite Column – ‘Re Re’ and Striving for Excellence
For at least 20 years, there was an official acknowledgement that a rethinking of education and training had to be done by the authorities in Barbados. National consortiums realised that with the phenomenon of globalisation, also came new imperatives compelling small states such as Barbados to adjust meaningfully and quickly to rapid changes of engagement occurring across the globe. Barbados had to face the challenge of being pulled further into the density of complex economic changes. The need to be globally competitive regardless of local shortcomings existed, and this was very apparent in financial, technical, and commercial activities. Reshaping national attitudes, therefore, became commensurate with being able to withstand the vicissitudes of international competition, if Barbados was to survive.
Adjusting to change, meant that local policymakers, academics, and technocrats had to shift from short-sighted posturing and piecemeal fixes towards radical intervention. The then prime minister Owen Arthur, delivering the budgetary proposals in the Barbados House of Assembly on September 2, 1998, alluded to the challenges emanating from such dispatch. Arthur opined that attempting to steer Barbados to a place of transformation and relative safety demanded ‘a radical new approach to education and training’ from which, national synergies would become purpose-fit for creating a vibrant and sustainable economy which would work for the benefit of all Barbadians. Thus, a reasonable question was why is radical change necessary, and what specific problems would be alleviated by shifting gears?
The first vital first steps for enabling change and devising the coping mechanisms would spring from access and opportunities to education and training. Reshaping education and training became a national priority, and it was equally important to create generational awareness and knowledge throughout the society. Explaining the rationale, Owen Arthur contended: “There is no question that the pervasive revolution in information and communication technology will … be the most important determinant of the economic fortunes and the social structure of all societies. For this reason, we cannot rest on our laurels in respect of education and training. Indeed, the issue is no longer whether education in Barbados is free and universal; it is whether it is relevant to today’s purposes and tomorrow’s needs … in creating the labour force required for tomorrow’s world.” Current prime minister, Mia Amor Mottley, was part of that Arthur-led administration.
To be clear, gradual incrementalism has historically been the preferred mode of affecting fundamental change in the annals of Caribbean administrative work. Michael Gallivan et al. (1994) argue that “where established structures, processes, and knowledge are extended and augmented, radical change replaces the status quo with a new order of things and as a result may create serious disruptions in structures, processes, operations, knowledge, and morale.” Barbados and most regional governments have been usually gradual to affecting change because of its less disruptive nature. Politicians, in some cases lacking the political will, have shied away from doing the practical and right thing, fearing that to rock the boat may result in electoral punishment at the next general elections. They refuse to go beyond a mere tinkering of inherited colonial structures.
Yet, and in contrast to gradualism, Barbados is now at a juncture whereby radical changes in attitudes and administrative actions have become necessary to rescue the country from its decade-old forlorn. With radical change there is the presumption that processes will be transformed and created causing dislocation in the short-term with no certainty of long-term success. Additionally, new claims to multiple responsibilities are likely to be transferred as power bases dismantle vertical and sometimes unnecessary hierarchies. The ‘radical’ ruptures are likely to reflect a more practical pliancy making the operational domains in public administration more suitable to coping with the changes enveloping Barbados.
Today, PM Mottley and the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) are charged with putting back Barbados at the apex of administrative, economic, and governance standards in the Caribbean. One may recall, that in the late 1990s when functioning as the Minister of Education, Miss Mottley was tasked with the objective of commanding the relevant policy arena. Miss Mottley held ministerial responsibility for creating the first comprehensive framework that would technologically transform the education and training sectors. The transitioning took root in the nation’s school system with the programme ‘Edutech’. Despite some partisan critiques, Miss Mottley rapidly introduced a generation of children into a computerised world. The evidence of those efforts coincided with the changing pace, scale, and scope in which the business world operated, and in which technologies of all kinds were refashioning most aspects of productivity in almost every industry.
In 2018 and after failing to perform the necessary reforms in the public sector and the economy, Barbados is picking up the pieces. Rebuilding the broken economy necessitates actions that would drive another stage of technological transformation. Of meaningful significance, there is a refocusing on strategic education and training. Prime Minister Mottley is again pitched at the forefront, actively leading the radical change necessary for the transformation of the Barbados economy. E-governance, e-commerce, robotisation, and internet programming are among key activities that are on the figurative table. The prospects are tremendous although, this time around, the available resources appear lesser, the options are limited, and the danger of not achieving success appears costlier.
It is precisely at this intersection of getting the framework right for education and training that PM Mottley’s proposal for the ‘Re Re Programme’ can be of major and constructive significance. The Re Re Programme, according to Miss Mottley, is about “retooling and empowering; it’s about retraining and enfranchising.” Emphasising that change can be uncomfortable but is necessary, PM Mottley has already indicated that the Re Re Programme will help maximise efforts for managing the change in which the retooling spurs empowerment and, the retraining supports an enfranchising en route to a ‘destination of excellence’ not dissimilar from the excellence personified by the iconic ‘Ri Ri’ Fenty. In fact, Prime Minister Mottley is advocating that the direction of change for making Barbados the best it can be, resides in the capacity of the population to become technologically inclined. The embedded rationale that education and training can directly improve socio-economic circumstances for most, ushers in a radical approach for fixing Barbados’ problems. This can easily translate into more opportunities for the individual growth of employers and employees.
Certainly, education and training must become common factors in the nation’s psyche since these are measurable components helping to determine economic growth and local investment. Simultaneously, increasing the numbers of technologically savvy persons who become empowered and enfranchised can spur commensurate changes across the public and private sectors. It is there that a sense of ownership leading to enhanced productivity and competitiveness become realisable assets. Therefore, radical approaches and innovative solutions to these problems require an integration of perspectives from a diverse population of stakeholders and not government alone. Both the public and private sectors, working together in supportive ways, must be prepared to give impetus to those initiatives that would radically manage Barbados’ effective transformation. The Prime Minister has declared that the Government she leads is determined and recognises that “we have to do things a little differently.” A radical approach to problem-solving and to fixing the damage, ushers in the importance of education and training to get Barbados where it needs to be.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant and former lecturer in Political Science. Email: email@example.com).