Remarks by Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis Hon. Dr. Terrance M. Drew at CXC’s 3rd Ministerial Summit on Educational Transformation in Barbados

Remarks by Prime Minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis Hon. Dr. Terrance M. Drew at CXC’s 3rd Ministerial Summit on Educational Transformation in Barbados

By Press Secretary, Mrs. Adelcia Connor-Ferlance | November 10, 2023

 

Transcribed: 

I congratulate CXC and all who are involved in this new thrust, to really embark on what I would call a renewed and refreshing journey to make sure that the education our people receive in our Caribbean region is one that would, of course, transform us and make sure that we continue to develop to become the people who we wish to become.

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Before I get into it, I want to give you a story. It is a story about me, maybe some of those who are even close to me, may not know the story, but I think it is relevant based on what your theme is today. One of the things I must say is that my mother is Rastafarian. She is probably by chronological age, the oldest Rastafarian woman in Saint Kitts and Nevis; that is by chronological age, not the years of practicing.

When I was ten years old, she stopped me from school. She decided then, she would not allow me to go to school anymore. Of course, that caused a firestorm of discussion; public discussion, which involved of course, the authorities, the justice system, the social system, and all sorts of other systems, because a parent had decided that her child should not go to school anymore. And so, she had to go to court, and the question was asked, and I pondered then, why she stopped me from going to school.

When she went to court and that was probably in 1987, the magistrate or the judge, whoever oversaw the case, asked her, why would you stop him from school. She said I think that the educational system that he is going through at this time is misinforming him. The system is abusing him, as a parent, how can I allow the system to abuse my child? And then looking further into the details of it, how can you teach a black child from the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus discovered the region? She found that very deeply offensive, totally disregarding those who were there before Christopher Columbus and totally disregarding our different ancestors.

Then she went on to say, at no time in school are you teaching him about his heroes. He learns nothing about Marcus Garvey, he knows nothing about even the indigenous people, from their perspective, and he learns nothing about the heroes from among his people. So what child do you expect to produce when you give him an education like that? So, you are misinforming him, and the education that you are giving him, is it relevant to what he is supposed to do in his country? What are you preparing him for?

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So her premise was, maybe she did not articulate it as I did, but her premise was, the information is inaccurate, the information is disregarding who he is as a Caribbean child, the information is presenting his history in a derogatory way, so what type of child are you creating? And those were some powerful questions that she put before the court. Of course, the court could not refute it, because they taught me that Christopher Columbus discovered the region, but they never taught me sufficiently about my own people or the indigenous people, and to a great extent educational system was still focused on preparing us as if we were colonial boys and girls to work in a colonial system.

And so, what she was really asking for is an education that would be relevant, transformative; that would be truthful, and help to produce the type of people in the Caribbean that we ought to produce. She challenged the system and I think after she made her presentation the judge could not make the recommendation that I had to be forced back to school. However, nonetheless, it was one of my most exciting years. I did not have to get up to go to school, put on a uniform, listen to these rules, or learn how we are supposed to learn, but interestingly enough she gave me a different type of education. I had books to read, but my books were different from the books that they were using in school. I had to have discussions with her, but my discussions were different from what I had in school. By the time I got back to school, despite all of those things, I was ten, so everybody was determined that I should enter back into school and not be homeschooled because that was a strange concept.

When I got back into grade 4 or 5, I was talking about things that my fellow students did not even comprehend. To some extent, they thought that I was strange. I kept that apart and just fit back into what was considered normal, and so, I went through school and did what they asked of me; write some CXC subjects, go on to 6th form, do some Cambridge A-levels then apply to University and did medical exams, medical schools and all of that. Nothing is wrong with that. But I always kept in the background, that year when I learned the most in any given year of my life, not just in terms of content, but in terms of transforming my mind to another place and another state, and that I think was responsible mostly for me achieving what I have achieved.

Therefore, I say to CXC, it is extremely relevant what you are doing, in terms of making sure, that at this juncture, you really change to a greater extent the educational system that would respond to the Caribbean needs and the Caribbean people. And I thought I would give that story, because if you did it you would recognize the results, and you cannot predict the results, but it will transform into things that you have not seen and have not heard because that is the power of a really true education.

And so today, I stand before you with profound gratitude and boundless pride as we convene at the CXC’s Third Annual Ministerial Summit on Educational Transformation. It is an extraordinary honour and privilege to be a part of this momentous occasion. I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Caribbean Examinations Council for extending the invitation to me, and I wholeheartedly applaud CXC for its remarkable contributions to the advancement of education in our region.

This is not just another day; it’s a jubilant year and I join in the celebration! We gather here to commemorate 50 years of CXC’s steadfast commitment to regional development, particularly in nurturing our greatest resource—our human capital, and I stress that our greatest resource is our human capital. This is a monumental achievement, and it is a testament to the unwavering dedication of all those who have been part of this remarkable journey; I just learned that a former registrar is here with us, put your hands together for all who have been involved over this 50 years.

As we dive into the theme of this year’s summit, ‘Reimagining Educational Reform – Towards Transformative Agility,’ we recognize the profound significance of the moment. In a world that is evolving at an unprecedented pace, our educational systems must undergo a metamorphosis to equip our students with the skills, knowledge, and adaptability required to excel in a dynamic and ever-changing landscape. This theme resonates deeply with the pressing needs of our region, where educational reform is not just a necessity; it is an imperative.

Today, we embark on a journey towards a brighter and more agile future, where education is the cornerstone of our transformation. Together, we shall pave the way for a new era of excellence, innovation, and boundless possibilities. So, let us set our sights high and our aspirations higher as we continue this exciting and impactful journey.

As we reflect on the past half-century of the CXC, the contributions to our educational landscape are boundless. We see a remarkable journey of progress and diversification.  The knowledge and skills imparted through CXC’s programs have empowered countless individuals to reach their full potential, contributing to the growth and prosperity of our region.

I am reminded of a quote by the renowned education icon, Nelson Mandela, who once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In the context of our theme today, “Reimagining Educational Reform – Towards Transformative Agility,” Mandela’s words resonate deeply. We must recognize that education is not merely about imparting knowledge; it is about instilling the capacity for transformation and agility in our students.

I am also reminded of the impressionable words of The Mighty Sparrow, who in his own way understood the great significance of quality education for our youth and the advancement of our societies. I would not dare to sing it, because I am not a singer, but I will say the words:
“Education, education, this is the foundation
Our rising population needs some education
To be recognized anywhere you go
Have your certificate to show
To enjoy any kind of happiness
Knowledge is the key to success.”

It is evident that CXC understood this and 50 years ago embarked upon a journey to transform our region academically and continue to do so remarkably, raising a standard of education that is admired globally.
In the Caribbean, our education systems must remain responsive to the unique challenges and opportunities we face. We are a diverse and dynamic region, and our educational system needs to reform, which must reflect our diversity and equip our students with the agility to adapt to changing circumstances. The world is changing at a pace that we cannot keep up if we don’t try, and we must ensure that our educational systems provide a solid foundation while fostering a culture of lifelong learning and adaptability.

The Caribbean Examinations Council has made several transformative contributions to the Caribbean region over the years. As I mentioned before, CXC has developed standardized examinations and qualifications that are recognized and admired across the Caribbean region and indeed the world. These qualifications provide a common benchmark for educational achievement, allowing students to move seamlessly across the region and globally, enhancing the mobility of labour and educational credentials. This is of course evident! We see our Caribbean Nationals contributing majorly to the international scene in various sectors.

The Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) are the shining stars of our educational landscape. These prestigious qualifications stand tall, recognized not only within our shores but across the globe, as passports to higher education and boundless career opportunities.

Today, we celebrate the fruit of relentless research, a testament to CXC’s unwavering commitment to providing curricula that perfectly align, in some instances, and of course, need to be transformed, and have to transform to the unique needs of our beloved Caribbean. Through a data-driven approach, we ensure that our educational content remains a beacon of relevance, forever in sync with the dynamic demands of the modern workforce.

This dynamic approach has paved the way for our young minds to explore, innovate, and excel in their areas of passion and strength while proudly holding recognized qualifications. And of course, we are here to discuss more of that. The journey of our students is no longer confined to one path but a magnificent network of possibilities. Therefore, with the renewed CSEC and CAPE, our youth are armed with a world-class education, ready to shape the future, and open doors to a world of opportunities.

The dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic showed us that we need to be more adaptable. The entire world was restricted, but we recognized that our economies still had to function and CXC had to quickly adapt, and it did to some extent, embrace the changing times and incorporate digital learning and assessment tools, making education more accessible to students across the Caribbean. The introduction of online platforms and computer-based testing has enhanced the assessment process and prepared students for the digital age. However, we all admit that this has to be advanced as well.

CXC has invested in teacher training and professional development, providing educators with the tools and resources to enhance their teaching practices. This focus on teacher development has had a positive impact on the quality of education in the region.

Furthermore, CXC has been an unwavering advocate and example for inclusive education, which ensures that every child is included, regardless of their abilities, and has equal opportunity to thrive. The tireless commitment to developing accommodation and support systems is truly laudable. CXC must be given a commendation for this effort. CXC’s dedication to leveling the playing field is a testament to our collective vision of a fair, diverse, and empowering educational landscape where every student can unleash their full potential.

This year’s Ministerial Summit is a testament to the dedication of the Caribbean Examinations Council, and Dr. Wesley, I continue to applaud you for this effort, as its partners continue to ensure that they work and collaborate to transform our educational system. It is an opportunity for us to come together, share insights, and chart a course toward a future where our education system not only empowers individuals but also contributes to the broader development of our region.

In Saint Kitts and Nevis, we have embarked on an audacious journey—to transform our twin-island nation into the first Sustainable Island State of our Region. Our vision, anchored on the formidable pillars of food security, energy transition, and water security, among others, is not merely a dream; it is a destiny that demands our solid, solid commitment.

But let me be clear: this vivid vision, this audacious dream, will not become a reality without a seismic shift in our approach to education and empowerment. It will not become a reality without the tireless upskilling, education, and relentless retraining of our people. Our educators, the architects of our future, must be stalwarts of continuous learning, setting the pace for innovation and excellence. And yes, it hinges upon the support, perpetual innovation, and improved delivery of services from CXC. CXC is indeed a fundamental part of this equation.

As we embark on establishing this transformative education we seek to get through the CXC system. Let me highlight a number of things that are facing the region and the region must respond. Of course, climate change. Climate change is already impacting our region and our people. Our resilience is needed, and adaptability is also necessary. Where I stand as I was discussing the budget for this year, a new element surfaced that is costing tens of millions of dollars. Because of climate change, the classrooms are hotter, the humidity has changed, and as a medical doctor, I understand the impact that would have on students and therefore their ability to learn in this new era of climate change would be affected if we do not invest in creating an environment that is most ideal; hence, air condition and humidity control in the classrooms. That change alone will cost tens of millions of dollars.

We also have to understand that the region will be impacted by stronger storms, which means the infrastructure for learning would be significantly affected, thereby asking the governments to invest more in the infrastructure that we use for education, costing again, any country, tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, across the region, just to create quality physical condition for our children to learn in. I have reached yet about the changing of the curricula and the other things that are needed. I am just speaking about adaptation to climate change, and where we will be affected.

But in all of that we also have to ask the question, is education responding to what we need now in the Caribbean region? What type of person do we want our education system to churn out? I don’t say it lightly.

I will give you a particular example. In a particular country, without calling any name, I was shocked to learn that the students who were leaving primary school to go into a high school, had to wait on a result to come to say which school they were going to, and that school that they would go to would determine to a large extent their success in that society. And I asked myself, even as a medical practitioner, how is it that a child at that age is subjected to that great stress, of waiting for results to determine further which school they will attend, to determine further how successful they would be in school, to determine further where they will end up in university, to determine further their success as a citizen. That is already traumatic. So, what happens to the vast majority of students who may not enter a school that is considered prestigious? What does it do to their self-esteem? That psychological trauma, how do they deal with it throughout life? Already setting up those who do not get into a school that is considered to be the best school; they are already thinking they are failures. Where do those students end up?

In Saint Kitts and Nevis, I can tell you where they used to end up. They used to end up on the streets. Then after that with no education to adapt to the society in which they live, which had to some extent rejected them even before they became adults. What do you think they did? They formed gangs! Because at least in that culture they are respected, though we see it as deviant behaviour. If you look at the hierarchy of needs, you will see there, respect, is one of those needs that every human being requires. Therefore, as we speak about creating a society where there is peace, the educational system from my vantage point, and I speak only from what I observe and put it into context, that those who do not get that academic education and are left aside, many of them are cast aside by the very society that should have protected them, at too young of age and they formed their own society, within society, and what they formed was not what we wanted them to form.

Therefore, to a great extent, this violence that is going through the Caribbean, as we deem it because we now have a new concept in CARICOM dealing with violence from a public health perspective, looking at it holistically, the educational system must come under heavy scrutiny, and we ask if you are to some extent not responding to the needs of the region or have you contributed to some extent to the marginalization of some of our young people. Tough questions to ask. How will you respond? What type of Caribbean person do we want to create? Nevertheless, even with all of that, I see that there is great hope.

But the last point I want to make is this other point. Within the Caribbean region, there are very talented young people. Some of them are gifted by the measures that are traditionally used, which is the IQ, and I have not touched on EQ as yet, because I think the educational system needs to respond to that as well.
I remember a young girl who had done I think 16 CXCs and got 16 ones at a very young age, maybe she was about 15 or 16. I took her to the United Nations with me last year. But she was gifted because she was not only good academically, but she could do almost everything at a very, very high level – music, sport, education. And then there was a discussion in the country about whether or not she should go to college. Here you have a 15-year-old, academically talented, who has all of these CXCs she has been doing since she was in 2nd form. Of course, it is obvious that her talent is way beyond the CXC level, which is fine, and here she is in school, bored. Just like the child who is not academically inclined and is pushed aside to some extent, she feels pushed aside, because here she is with this open mind, has fulfilled everything that had been asked of her at this young age because of her academic talent and it that she could not find a space within the school system to advance that; and that I found strange. That is one of the conversations I had with Dr. Wesley. When we find talented young people who are academically gifted, what do we do with them? Do we tell them they cannot go to college? Or do we tell them yes at 14 for your gift we will make sure that you get there? So, I want CXC to also respond to those who are among us as well.

The last point is this one. What about developing what is called the EQ side of it? I have seen over and over because I used to teach at one point in my life, that you would have 10 CXC subjects, they would have 12, and then you would ask them to sit to do an interview or have a conversation and you are wondering, and looking at the paper and you say, ok…12 subjects over here, but what I am hearing over here, the conversation that is being had and the development of their EQ, there is a mismatch, a significant mismatch that put people to a disadvantage as well. So I would like to ask CXC to respond to that as well.

Not only the academics, how much you are getting in your Maths, your English, and so forth but are you developing? In other words, those soft skills which to me sometimes, after a certain point, are more important than academics.

I remember when I went to the US to do my interview to get into a specialty. Of course, I was coming from Cuba, and spoke Spanish, everybody told me it could not be done, but I said well if there is a way I will get it done. And so, I remembered when to the interview, after having done all the examinations, I think the professor understood that if you are sitting in front of him you have already achieved a high level of education, and so he was looking for something more. Interestingly enough he was from Australia and instead of talking about medicine, he started to talk cricket. Also, interesting is that as a young boy I used to stay up with my grandfather, he used to force me to stay up with him to watch cricket. He would have me up at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning to watch cricket because he was a lover of cricket when I should be sleeping. But the professor and I spoke about cricket for 45 minutes out of the hour and I was able to tell him all the things that I learned from my grandfather. About two weeks later he called me and said, “Look, I would like you to come and study”. The only thing I can say is it was not just the academics that got me there. It was the other education, the Caribbean education, my cricket education, that convinced him that I was not just an academic I was a real person and therefore I was suited to further studies.

The point I am bringing is that CXC with your new theme this year, ‘Reimagining Educational Reform – Towards Transformative Agility,’ I must say that I love it and I think the why is defined in this theme, and therefore it gives CXC the impetus and the thrust to chart this new course in this 21st century, responding to the needs of our people and of course setting the foundation for us to conquer all these changes.

Thank you CXC for responding to our needs and I wish you success and 50 more years of not only success but extraordinary success, we need it, and we deserve it. Thank you very much!

 

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