The 2021-2022 academic year has begun with online teaching. The Ministry of Education advised that there will be a blended approach after the first two weeks. While COVID-19 pandemic has created problems for the physical reopening of schools, there were major concerns raised by stakeholders in education as to the readiness of schools for the academic year. The New Democratic Party (NDP) supports the continuing teaching and learning process, but a more structured approach is needed.
During the last academic school year, most of the curriculum was delivered online. Teachers, students and parents should be commended for a job well done, bearing in mind that teachers were not trained to deliver the curriculum online. There were challenges in the process. Some students did not have the devices, some homes were without electricity and internet connection, there wasn’t a systematic maintenance programme in place to service the devices and the Ministry of Education did not have a common platform to deliver the curriculum.
While the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government likes to promote their ‘education revolution’, they have failed most of the students of this country. We have had a high repetition and dropout rate. The high rates of repetition and dropouts are concerns for us in the NDP. In comparison to the other countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), St. Vincent and the Grenadines not only has the highest repeaters and dropouts at the primary and secondary levels, but its numbers are far higher than that of the other islands of the OECS.
There are many undiagnosed learning difficulties which are not detected at an early stage. We have no system for identifying those students who may have a specific learning difficulty. Without targeted remedial education, some children may fall behind their peers in numeracy and literacy skills development.
It is time that a unit with the responsibility for detecting and addressing learning difficulties be established in our quest to achieve positive outcomes in literacy and numeracy. A system of tracking and charting students’ progress in literacy and numeracy must be implemented to guide the remedial and improvement programme.
Moreover, the quality of the physical environment remains a concern. This environment significantly affects students’ achievements and teachers’ performance. It is still a daunting task and downright depressing to be teaching and learning in those classrooms where the physical conditions are poor and lack the stimulating teaching aids that are required.
There must be a new approach to the development of education in this country. The NDP will focus on education for development. As the Honourable Terrance Ollivierre, spokesperson for education puts it: “We must re-engineer our education system to cater to the needs of all in a technological environment. The context in which schools operate and the purpose of education are undergoing drastic and rapid changes through the action of technology. We must pilot and provide new initiatives filled with ammunitions for our people to learn and perform, in pursuit of opportunities to change their circumstances, their communities, family prospects, their country and the world.
You may inquire what ammunitions are required for the re-engineering of the education system to create better opportunities and positive outcomes for all. These include: the use of technology/E-Learning in delivery of the curriculum; building of online platforms – to take our educational institutions ahead of the curve; skills training and certification/CVQ in Secondary Schools and the payment of CXC/CSEC, CCSLC and CAPE fees.
The re-engineering process must address the educational and social needs of our students as we develop appropriate measures and implement strategies to support multiple pathways to success. We could have achieved more if this Unity Labour Party administration had the proper innovative measures in place, in accordance with major trends in education, to bring about the desired change, especially in the use of the technology in the delivery of the curriculum, skills training and certification at secondary schools. We will also focus on other sectors of the country for development, example, tourism and agriculture.”
The NDP will make Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education a priority. The NDP believes that a key factor in the country’s development in the 21st century will be the creation of a new generation of citizens with at least a basic grounding in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We feel it is important that the citizens and students of St Vincent and the Grenadines should not be simply passive consumers of technology, but also originators and creators of technology. Education curriculum reform must, therefore, aim to bring the teaching of relevant subjects (including app development and coding) to the primary and secondary schools.
We will transform healthcare through the use of technology. Healthcare practice will be taken to the next level with cloud-enabled record keeping at the district level, making access to information and treatment easier, and use SMS messaging to connect patients and healthcare workers to deliver medication reminders, appointment reminders, important alerts and health tips. We will initiate a telemedicine pilot project that will allow in real-time, connection between our own doctors and doctors around the world, to provide consultancy, advice and even perform minor procedures through the internet.
The NDP will aggressively pursue new business ventures in ICT using our existing legislation to attract ICT businesses to our shores. Through appropriate incentives, we will create thousands of new jobs in the technology sector. We will turn St. Vincent and the Grenadines into a free wireless hotspot. Free, wireless internet connectivity will be available to residents and visitors in town and country, in offices and at tourism sites.
We must equip our students for the future of work and provide them the education, skills and training for successful careers and ultimately to contribute to the development of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.