Submitted by Observing
If we never learn from history we are doomed to failure. Between 1995 and approximately 2010 the ambitious EDUTECH programme was promoted under the leadership of the then Minister of Education. All objective analyses and independent reports have concluded that it was a partial success, with many unmet objectives and a significantly less than expected overall impact specifically in the areas of overall technology integration and improved academic achievement
If one had any doubt, just imagine that 20+ years after the fact, we were caught scrambling with devices and online classes during Covid 19, and, the exact same problems being presented now, are the EXACT same problems that existed circa 2000. So, the question is, why did the reform back then “fail?” Here are a few thoughts free of charge.
1. Too many major things at same time
Civil works, technology integration, teacher training and curriculum reform were all done at the same time but out of sync with each other. Computers waited until desks were built. Some schools rushed ahead of the others. Teachers were trained but had nothing to work on. A technology dependent curriculum was implemented with sometimes no technology. This multi-project programme approach was too much.
2. Test and fix model
This model assumes that you “try a thing” and if it doesn’t work then you fix it after. When dealing with young minds and real flesh and blood people though, this model is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Hence the many many plasters and patches that were placed over a 20 year period while the wound was still healing.
3. Unbalanced budgeting
Imagine having 500+ millions dollars to spend, but only spending only 3-5% of it for teacher training and HR development. Enough said.
4. Too many square pegs
Persons chosen to implement were not implementers. The proposed team structure was abolished. Random teachers suddenly became IT administrators and had to learn on the job. Add in the political and bureaucratic pressure from those without any policy or technology background and voila, ineffectiveness and inefficiencies appear.
5. Shiny toy syndrome
Rather than get the needed tools to solve the actual problem and get the job done, we often opted for the tools that had a “wow” factor and looked the shiniest.
6. Parts, maintenance, sustainability
Any major project must have a sustainability plan. Any hardware must have a maintenance / replacement plan. This was not the case.
7. Lack of involvement of teachers
Edutech was a complete “top down-do as I say and tek dah” project. Without the national buy-in, the end results were inevitable.
8. Change in Minister
When a major project depends almost entirely on the gravitas of one person, it eventually dies when that person goes. After the then Minister moved, the others struggled to understand, implement, sell and execute the ambitious proposals.
9. Lack of infrastructure
To this day, Barbadian schools lack adequate 21st century infrastructure.
10. Inefficient integration of technology and training
If our idea of technology training and integration for teachers was Word, Excel and PowerPoint then nothing else needs to be said.
11. Lack of social focus
Integral to any reform must be an acknowledgement that issues in education stem directly from issues in homes and society. A single lesson of “guidance” is not social and emotional learning. A workshop every 2-3 years does not empower teachers to deal with what they are faced with each day. And 6 hours in a classroom will never overshadow 10 hours in a completely contradictory environment elsewhere. A focus on values, norms and community building from the cradle is where real reform begins.
We are where we were before. This time it seems that in addition to redoing a lost two decades, we are now radically disturbing, disrupting and distressing the system with a rushed and uncertain approach with artificial timelines. All of this still with some square pegs, and the same top down approach now masquerading as “consultations” and “pretty pamphlets.”
By all means yes, transform the system. But start at the right place, for the right reason, without the political agenda. Take all the time needed to phase it in and do it right, use the right people, allocate the needed resources in most needed places, invest primarily and support teachers and leaders, integrate the education, social and labour sectors, facilitate a proper and well resourced guidance, counselling and intervention programme in ALL schools and for God’s sake, learn from the past mistakes.
Let us hope those with eyes to see and ears to hear take a pause to look and listen. Most of the bath water should go, but the baby should stay.
P.S. Does anyone want to bet on whether Harrison College (Greenfield, Chapman Lane, Nelson Street), Queens College (Haynesville, Cave Hill, Redmans Village), Combermere (Bush Hall, Bank Hall, Station Hill), St. Michael’s (Halls Road, Carrington Village, Martindales Road), Lodge (Gall Hill, Four Roads, Massiah Street), Alleyne (Belleplaine, Shorey, Hillaby), Alexanda (Road View, Speightstown, Carlton) or Foundation (Silver Hill, Scarborough, Gall Hill) will become “middle” schools forced to accept ALL feeder primary school students closest to them? After all, we are getting rid of “good” schools and “bad” schools…aren’t we?