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CARICOM 38 | Less than 15 per cent of Caribbean nationals accessing tertiary-level education

Published:Wednesday | July 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
Members of the University of the West Indies Class of 2015 during their graduation ceremony at the Mona campus.

Less than 15 per cent of citizens in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on average access tertiary-level education, a situation regional education administrators argue should propel governments to implement needed reforms if they are serious about economic growth.

Glenroy Cumberbatch, the registrar of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), made the disclosure on Wednesday at the Grenada meeting of regional leaders for their 38th heads of government conference. He was among officials who spoke at a press briefing on the CARICOM Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy.

"It's extremely low," he said of the average level of access which he said represents an increasing trend. "We're not just talking about university education. We're talking about university education plus community college education, plus polytechnic education plus sixth-form education, that, whole mesh of opportunities for people to go beyond secondary school is important to the economies."

The disclosure also means CARICOM failed to meet the 15 per cent target for 2005 that it set in 1997.

The CXC head argued that there is immediate need for traditional methods of teaching in the region to accommodate the abilities of all children. He said there has to be a greater focus on sustaining the curiosity of children, emphasising collaborative learning in addition to expanding access.

The efforts of Caribbean governments, he admitted, will be affected by funding, though he said money is not all.

"If you look at the funding that the governments of the Caribbean put towards education, it is comparable with funding for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the industrialised countries. In a sense, it may not be the amount of money, it may be more how that money is used."

Significant wastage in education system

Didacus Jules, the director general of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), backed up that argument saying "the problem is not money, the problem is a need for wholesale reform we've been speaking about". "There's significant wastage in the education system. Look at levels of dropout, the levels of repetition in schools, especially at secondary schools.

"I did some research in one particular OECS country. Over an eight-year period, the cohort of students who entered secondary school was about 6,000. By the time you get to form five (grade 11), you have a certain level of dropout from that. And of the population present in the secondary school, about nine per cent do not sit CSEC after five years."

"Of those, who sit the exam, you have further wastage, and less than half got five or more subjects, which is considered needed for decent wage employment. If you quantify that wastage, it actually comes to about ECD$41 million (J$2.2 billion) in the case of that particular country," he added, noting the spend by parents was not included.

Dr Jules, a former CXC head, said that the reforms of the education system in the region must start at the early-childhood level, which is "underserved" in the region.

The human resource strategy, which proposes several reforms aimed at equipping nationals with skills for regional economic needs, is to be approved by CARICOM heads.