Pursuing Excellence

Dear Readers:

Various organisations and government agencies have recently adopted the phrase “standard of excellence” to encourage high standards. These are responsible initiatives because attaining high standards can only benefit small developing countries like Barbados.

Singapore’s economy is often touted as the model of development for developing countries. However, Singapore’s economic success is primarily based on the universal formula for achievement. It is a formula that is applicable to individuals, companies, organisations, and nations and it consists of three principal components – setting high standards, believing that they can be attained, and then pursuing them.

The government of Singapore first set high standards for itself and then for its citizens, and they believed that their country could attain such standards. Their response to national problems was to set even higher standards, and the results are indisputably impressive. Sir Frank Worrell reportedly set very high standards for the West Indies cricket team during his captaincy, and had faith in his team’s ability to achieve them. Their pursuit of those standards is legendary, and they left us with a legacy of which we can be proud. Barbadians who have attained above average achievements can testify to the effectiveness of this formula, and those who are currently following it are making an invaluable investment.

Regrettably, we seem to be abandoning this universal formula that has served us so well. There seems to be less emphasis placed on increasing the quality of our products and services, and an over-reliance on unsustainable marketing and public relations strategies that promise a standard of excellence, but deliver a hollow experience. A quality product or service is achieved by adopting and pursuing high standards and not through advertisements.

The amount of faith that a government has in the capacity of its people to achieve can be measured by the quality of the national standards set, and the type of hindrances placed in the way of persons pursuing even higher standards. These hindrances can be informal or institutional. Adopting low national standards is the equivalent of planting weeds among food crops. The weeds will not appear immediately, but they will negatively affect the harvest.

Lowering the standard of our driving test has allowed an increased number of undisciplined drivers on our roads. The subsequent rise of the undisciplined ZR type culture with its associated music containing violent and sexually explicit lyrics has cultivated a sub-culture of violence, sexually promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS, primarily among our youth. The promotion of vulgarity at some NCF events has popularised part of this culture.

Incredibly, despite the negative consequences, our response has been to adopt even lower standards when the solution clearly lies in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the most damaging consequences of our actions are for our students.

I was profoundly disheartened by the recent pronouncement by the Ministry responsible for Education, and also the admissions by senior educators that 70% to 75% of our students will not be able to pass the CXC exams. This is not a statement of faith in the capacity of our students, but rather indicates a deficiency in the institutional exam preparation process.

I do not believe that the majority of our students lack the mental capacity to pass the CXC exams. The principal problem with our system of education is that the current primary and secondary school curriculum does not take advantage of our student’s natural cognitive strengths at the different stages of their development. Furthermore, the spiral curriculum that the Ministry responsible for Education has adopted for the past 30 years was designed for mediocre results, and those results are apparent.

The Ministry responsible for education had previously identified the major problem with our educational system as the school curriculum. Perhaps there could be less emphasis placed on developing the National Vocational Qualifications and more on providing our students with an efficient curriculum thereby removing the major hindrance to learning for 70 to 75% of our students.

History has shown that it can take a considerable amount of time for new ideas to germinate in the minds of policy makers before action is taken. In the meanwhile, most of our students desperately need assistance. I hope to provide some of that assistance in next week’s article.

You are encouraged to present your opinion.

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