To look at the education system whether in the minds and mouths of our politician or as evidenced in what entails in our Caribbean countries is to view the narrow-mindedness and duplicity which is the inevitable result of a people not reconciled with itself. Further, I think it gives evidence of leaders who, due to a failure to properly assess their past, are lost as to how to attend themselves to the work of the future.
During the last budget presentation of the late Sir John Compton of St. Lucia I again heard the rhetoric that the government was “making the education system relevant”. As I waited with baseless hope for some encouraging clarification, I was met with what I knew in my deeper consciousness was the conception in the mind of our leader that a relevant education system did not exceed the goal of providing persons for the job market and increasing the availability of technical education.
The education system in which this was to be achieved is no more than this ambition suggests: we infuse our youth with the conception that education is a series of examinations after which they receive paper qualifications which they can use to get a “good” job. If one is deemed by our assessment, not be “academically” inclined then one is deemed to be more “technical” and the remedy of more technical education is applied. I present these details to simply give a picture of the education system as I see it presently.
In the exploited world(so-called Third World), the education system has always been narrowly tied to the economy; first by the European exploiters for the benefits of the metropolitan economy, then by their successors among the local population who for a number of reasons have done little to make any fundamental change to the system. While it is impossible, unnecessary and perhaps unwise to entirely separate the education system from the economic agenda of a nation, it is important that the concept of holistic organic cycle be applied to our view of education thereby recognizing the bridge between the education system and the economy being a quality social fabric which can stimulate more critical assessment of the society and its challenges. It is such a context which will serve as a sustainable impetus for social and other development. A mentally liberated people by informed action can not only free their minds of their society from the tight clutches of imperialism but propel their economies it forward. This is ever more relevant today in a context where our governments, due to conditions of debt and aid, international treaties and agreements as well as the coercion of powerful governments, lack the autonomy to effect policies which may be in the best interest of their countries survival and progress and that of its people. It is only a mentally liberated people who can achieve this and thus, a government actually more firmly grounds its autonomy through elevating the active consciousness of its people. Education must be understood as cultivating this context within which social and economic development can occur as opposed to merely serving as a cog in the wheel of economics, relegating other considerations as peripheral.
According to revolutionary Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, education should be geared at helping persons to develop a consciousness of their situation with a mind to make transformation where they deem necessary. It is not merely an accumulation of so called “objective” information without the consciousness to apply it to their subjective reality and transforming it. In fact the objective facts which education promises can perhaps best be sought through their existence in the subjective experiences of the people to which the education is being targeted. Further that which is often touted as objective facts many times represent a continuance of certain age old biases tacitly or overtly expressed. Therefore if people do not understand simple things as the historical and continuous exploitative relationship between the White Imperialist system and their economies and the social structure which support it, how can they make the necessary choices to free them from its clutches? If people cannot begin to cleanse their minds of the debris of the colonial experience to then forward to further enlightenment and consciousness how are they to be empowered toward self-determination?
African people of the Diaspora are mis-educated toward to the point of becoming numb to issues which affect them and their race, causing them to become useless and even dangerous to the progress of the race and to addressing the issues of inequality in their societies and the world. Walter Rodney expounded effectively on this in his book “The groundings with my brothers” where he states
“Through this media of education and communication, white people have produced black people who administer the system and perpetuate white values” and further that, “Most of us who have studied at the U.W.I are discernable black but yet we are undeniably part of the white imperialist system. A few are pro-imperialist.”
Earle Lovelace too showed in The Wine of Astonishment how one who “got through” quickly became a danger to the cause of those who helped to bring him forward. Even those affected directly by such inequality can be duped through the education system not to examine the structures and factors which sustain their economic marginalization and exploitation. They continue to support politicians ardently in a democratic system to which they are both powerless and benefit very little. Economically depressed areas continue to remain as such despite proclamations of economic progress by our politicians. The nature of what is offered in the system makes the job of the politician ever simpler as the hardest questions are never asked.
Another valuable perspective which deserves attention as regards the approach to education is that of Erich Fromm. In his book To have or to be, he makes a useful distinction between the having mode and being mode as pertains to learning. The having mode, that which is generally cultivated within our education system consumes itself with a preoccupation with hoarding “knowledge” and qualifications. The being mode which is the more essential aspect of learning particularly for social transformation presents the view of education as a process of improving the quality of being of an individual; the experience of oneself in the world context. But what is that context we are operating in and who are those people we are educating? The extent to which we can properly address such questions has and will continue to form the basis of the capability of an education system to meet the agenda of development. For too long we have ignored the flawed concepts of civilization, superiority, beauty and such which remain with us from the oppression which escorted us into this era.
As a teacher of secondary school students, I face daily the unfortunate reality that many of the students go through the system experiencing little transformation in their consciousness. Even when successful at the examinations they retain a mass of misconceptions about the world and themselves. As stated before such are those who sometimes actually regress in their understanding of the oppressive system as they internalize “objective” laws totally oblivious to the subjective reality that faces themselves and their countries internally and in relation to the wider world context.
The formal education system is one part of the whole process of liberation of our people in this neo-colonial context. With an understanding of the various illusions which inhibit our liberation on its various levels, it would be incumbent on our leaders in the homes, communities and ultimately in the highest seats of power to create environments where such learning can be pursued by those who so desire with the available information and tools to make it possible. The framework must include community libraries, independent media sources, bookstores or book clubs managed by like-minded African parents and community leaders.
It is important to give our children and our people in general the tools to properly contextualize the various aspects of their lives and society. In addition to economics, the rest of the picture inclusive of spirituality, nutrition and health, history and other considerations must be attended to. When this important work is attended to, the obstacles to individual and national progress (as defined cumulatively by the people) are gradually removed and people are much better informed on the challenges facing their nation. It is with such a holistic approach to education that national progress can be more equitably and holistically pursued in effort and in returns. It is an education system attending efficiently to this work which is relevant both to individual liberation and progress and that of the nation. This is so for the African Worldwide Community as it is with all peoples, each with their own challenges and their own work of Self-Determination.