I had the honour this month to participate in an important dialogue about how we prepare our students for life. The discussion centred around two questions: “Preparing learners to be leaders: What is required? How do we transform the system to better prepare our learners to be leaders in this territory and the world?”
As a teacher’s kid, I know first-hand the labour of love that educators perform daily, and I salute them for their passion to see our children succeed despite circumstances.
Here are some of my thoughts that I shared that I hope prompt a community-wide conversation and a shift in our mindsets as to how we approach investing in the future of the Virgin Islands.
‘All is not lost’
I’ll start by saying all is not loss. I am a product of the public school system, and I feel I was equipped to be successful in life based on my educational experience up to the high school level. The “system” has never been perfect, but the evidence shows that it produced responsible citizens who are contributing to all aspects of our society several decades later. While it is difficult to plan with certainty for the unknown, in faith we must plan nonetheless. As our maths teachers would say, we will use our calculus to figure out the x’s and y’s as we go.
Malcolm X said, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
People are any country’s greatest natural resource, and the education system plays a critical role in making sure they are equipped for life and that the country therefore thrives. People being able to make a living wage and have a good quality of life is rooted in the education process and can be used as a baseline for measuring national success.
In answering the questions above, I would pose another question: “What are the students learning to make them leaders?”
In engineering, we would view the school system as a component of the education system, which is vast and complex. For example: The first educators in a child’s life are their family circle and wider community. By the time they hear a school bell, there are some things they need to unlearn before the laying of a foundation that will be built on over the next 10-12 years. At the end of this process, we hope to have a young adult ready and empowered to continue the building of our territory and the world.
Apart from the school system of curricula, methodology, teachers and facilities, NGOs like the Girl Guides and Sunday school were components of the education system that I grew up in and that helped to reinforce my life skills development. This may not be the same experience of many of our students today, and we must ask ourselves why not. And how do we shift back to the village raising its children? We must look first for the root causes of the problem to identify the solutions.
If our goals are to 1) bring our education system into the 21st Century, 2) help every student realise their potential, and 3) develop well-rounded citizens who become the business leaders and career professionals that our economy needs, we must broaden the scope of the reform to transform the “education system.” We should plan thoroughly, continuously improve what works, and eliminate what doesn’t contribute value.
The way forward
What do our students need to learn to help them develop into leaders?
- The curriculum should focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (the so-called STEM subjects), as well as the performing arts and other relevant knowledge areas that align with the territory’s workforce needs. This should include vocational training subjects.
- VI history and culture, civics, and multiple languages are needed for global competitiveness.
- After-school/community-sponsored programmes should teach life skills: teamwork, conflict resolution, discipline, money management, leadership, critical thinking, work ethic, entrepreneurship, and so on.
- More cohesion is needed among supporting actors like the BVI Reading Council, the library system, NGOs, sports associations, churches, businesses, clubs and so on — essentially the village.
- Active recruitment of the VI diaspora is needed to encourage qualified people to contribute to building their homeland and stopping the brain drain. Ways can be created for this to happen even for those who cannot relocate.
- Young leaders need to be developed through succession planning, internships and apprenticeships in the private sector and the public service. Also, more work experience overseas should be encouraged to equip and educate our students for their careers of choice.
The task ahead may seem like a daunting one, but the great news is that this is not for the government to do alone. The entire society — all of us — must play our part in equipping our students for their tomorrow.