Category Archives: Education

A Building Solution for Homeowners

The process of building a house for most people in Barbados follows these steps.

1.  The homeowner contacts a draughts-person or architect who prepares drawings and an application for Town Planning approval.

2.  The homeowner presents these drawings to a building contractor who provides them with a price, which if accepted, builds what is on the drawings.

3.  The homeowner occupies the house and is frustrated with the numerous and avoidable maintenance issues.

Most homeowners believe that the drawings approved by the Town Planning office contain sufficient information to allow their builder to build a safe and durable house.  This is not so. The drawings approved by Town Planning contain no guidance to the contractor to build safely.  Worse, most builders do not know how to build safely, and most if not all homeowners are oblivious to the fact that most of them occupy houses that will be unsafe during a major earthquake or hurricane.

I have often wondered what many of the 300,000 who died in Haiti thought as their houses, which they truly believed were well constructed, collapsed around them.  I have visited Haiti several times since the earthquake and have spoken with hundreds of survivors.  I understand that the dead have a different experience, but I can postulate that in addition to the fearful dread of impending harm, there was also a stunning shock and bewilderment about how their house, that cost them so much money to build, could be collapsing so dramatically.

Let me reiterate.  The drawings approved by Town Planning provide no guidance whatsoever to the contractor on how to build a safe house.  The homeowner is essentially placing hundreds of thousands of building materials into the hands of persons who generally do not know how to assemble them safely, despite their best efforts.  I have spent over a decade actively lobbying successive Governments to facilitate the safer building of houses, but there has been little change in the quality of residential construction practices.   So what is the homeowners’ solution when no-one is looking out for them?

I have decided to dedicate the next 5 years of my life certifying the competence of persons who are most likely to be responsible for supervising the construction of houses in the Caribbean.  These would include experienced artisans and construction supervisors/foremen.  The certification will be provided through Walbrent College, a Caribbean training institution for builders that is registered with the Barbados Accreditation Council.

If you decide to allow your contractor to build the typical unsafe and high-maintenance house for you, then you and your household will have to live with the consequences of your decision.  However, if you follow these simple steps then you should be OK.

1.  Ask your contractor for the name of their certified supervisor or foreman.

2.  Visit the Trained Persons section of and check whether the named person is among the approximately 200 persons already trained.

3.  If no certified foreman is directing the construction of your house, then insist that the contractor send the person who is responsible for directing the building of your house to the 10-day certification course, which is offered in the evenings (6:00 pm to 8:00 pm).  The course includes an inspection of your site during a critical building activity.

The benefits to you and future homeowners is that you can avoid the typical frustrating maintenance problems, including: leaking pipes, cracked and blown floor tiles, rising damp in walls, cracked walls, and the premature loss of the roof and walls during natural hazards.



My Co-Educational Experience

Dear Readers:

I was sorting some old files when I came across this letter which was published in the year 2000.  This letter started my writing career.



Dear Editor:

I have followed the co-education debate with interest and would like to offer my personal perspective on this multifaceted issue.

I returned to Combermere a few years ago to participate during the Old Scholars’ week of events.  We met with our headmistress, Ms Pile, in her office, and then proceeded to the auditorium.  I recall the combined chatter of hundreds of students as we drew closer, then as Ms Pile led the procession of old scholars into the auditorium, all of the students ceased talking and rose to their feet – I was almost overcome with emotion.

Once the Headmistress had invited the executive members of the CSOSA to be seated on the platform, she approached the microphone.  “Sit please”, and we all sat.  The notices were read, the prayers were said, and the hymn was sung.  Nothing had changed.  My beloved Combermere had retained its character and culture.   Then it was time for the school song.  I could hardly contain myself, for I used to sing in the school choir, and the school song held a special meaning for me then.

Lives are in the making here
Hearts are in the waking here
Mighty undertaking here
Up and on, up and on.

I can attest that these words are true, and what meaning they hold for me now.  As we sang the chorus, I could control my emotion no longer and wept for the first time in 15 years.

Up then! Truest fame lies in high endeavour
Play the game, keep the flame burning brightly ever

It is out of my love for this school, and its current and former students and teachers, and because I deeply treasure the memories and appreciate its culture that I feel compelled to provide my perspective.  To those who would hitherto be offended I offer my sincerest apologies.

I entered Combermere one year prior to the arrival of the girls and was placed in Lower 1D.  I vividly remember the authoritative yet simple manner in which teachers like Mr Roach who taught me English, and was affectionately known as Spoon (however not called that to his face by anyone who respected him), and Mr Sealy who taught me mathematics, were able to convey information.  Then there was our lone female teacher, Ms Jebodsingh from whom I learnt geography and integrity.

I distinctly remember the final day of the second term, happening upon young Hugh, who was weeping.  I inquired the reason for his apparent distress to which he replied that he had placed 8th in class.  I queried what was wrong with that, seeing as how I had placed 27th out of a class of 29 boys.  He bemoaned the fact that the previous term, he had placed 3rd.  There was also young Riley who I believe placed first, however both Riley and Hugh retook the 11+ Common Entrance exam later that year and subsequently left Combermere for HC.

Those were the days when boys seemed eager to learn.  When our teachers asked a question, one answered without hesitation.  Regardless of the answer, something was learnt, and even if I was incorrect, to be called upon was an honour, and the attempt itself was an achievement.

From Lower 1D, we went to form Upper 1F.  The school song was changed from “Up boys” to “Up then”, new bathrooms had been constructed for the girls, and although there were no girls in our class, the subject of much of the conversation centred around them.  However, learning continued and I distinctly remember the feelings of accomplishment in finally grasping the fundamentals of set theory and algebra, which I have not forgotten to this day.

For 2 years, whenever my father drove past Combermere, usually on our way to church, I would sit up and salute the school.  Why would an 11-year-old boy do such a thing that some may deem lunatic?  I suppose that I just loved the school.

We graduated to form 2G where the girls joined us.  They abolished the lower/upper first forms that year, and with the girls sitting so close, learning for me was difficult.  Puberty found me fascinated with these girls.  I can recall little of what I learned from forms 2 to 5, but I clearly recall being unable to concentrate in any of my classes except technical drawing and industrial arts.

I had no problem running around at lunchtime and entering the class perspiring.  A favourite sport would be to run behind a football with a few hundred other boys from first to sixth forms, all hoping to kick it.  It was like a stampede, and for the whole lunch period I only managed to kick the ball two or three times, but what satisfaction each kick provided.  I suppose the satisfaction was partially derived from just playing with the 5th and 6th formers, the men of the school.

I don’t recall being ridiculed much for answering a question incorrectly, but I know that I stopped asking questions after Upper 1F, even when I desperately wanted to.  Many times I was completely out to sea but was afraid to reveal my ignorance to the girls, some of whom I found rather attractive.

To sit next to a girl who I found attractive was a pleasurable yet painful experience.  For our eyes to make contact resulted in my heart feeling as if it were literally melting, and I had to look away.  Of course nothing was learned during that class period as I struggled to keep my heart rate down.  If she would happen to talk to me, then the whole day was lost, for I was usually too shocked and afraid to respond intelligently, and spent the rest of the day rehearsing some words to tell her – although I never had the courage to.

There were some boys who seemed to have no fear of revealing their ignorance to, or conversing with the girls.  They were generally the ones who also boasted about tasting the forbidden fruit.  Having not tasted such fruit untill I was married, I now understand the confidence and boldness such fruit provides a man; however, tasting such fruit before the proper time appeared to only provide illusionary achievement for those boys.  Those boys who boasted in 2nd and 3rd form were notably absent from 5th form.  Those who boasted in 5th form were not with me in 6th form.  Those who succumbed to the temptation in 6th were not with me at University.  And those who succumbed while pursuing their Bachelor’s degree were not with me while I pursued my Masters.

The temptations were real enough.  Some girls seemed bent on provoking the boys.  In 4th and 5th form, some would walk around without bras on, which effectively negated any serious study that day or night, followed by much anxiety the following day as one hurried to school hoping for a repeat performance.

Admittedly, such temptations were also present at university, where some girls (usually arts students) seemed determined to have intimate relations.  One turned up outside my dormitory room at 3:00am scantly clad and proposed sexual intercourse; however, by this time I was emotionally mature enough to respond properly – I politely declined.  However to force boys and girls to go through puberty in a sexually explosive environment, with the sorry excuse that they must all learn to get along, is just not right.

I believe that co-education may have an appearance of success for those studying the literary arts, where the general understanding of such material requires more personal study outside of the classroom.  For one does not need to read the entire English literature or foreign language text in the classroom to grasp the meaning.  However, every fundamental of mathematics, chemistry, and physics must be grasped to understand the more advanced subject matter derived from it.  To understand the rudiments of geometry and algebra require undivided attention, and the only way that I have survived to tell the tale is that from 3rd to 5th form, I spent my summer holidays reading the assigned science text books at home.

It is my opinion that this issue of co-education, while multi-faceted, is much less complex than some are proposing.  For at the end of the day, it is about a boy going through puberty, struggling to grasp the fundamentals of algebra, with an attractive girl sitting next to him, fascinating his heightened sense with her perfume, and distracting him with her skirt raised half way up her thigh.  Do we seriously expect our lads to learn anything?

I respect the learned opinions of Dean Critchlow, former Principal Blackman, and Principal Keith Griffith, and I hope that my perspective can be of some value to the debate.  Perhaps some thought can given to segregating the classrooms in September 2000, and if this seems too bold a step, then perhaps at least the science classes can be segregated.

Permit me to offer my apologies the current students of Combermere, for if someone would have recommended segregating the classes while I was a student, I would have deemed him a spoilsport.

Foes in plenty we shall meet
Hearts courageous scorn defeat
So we press with eager feet
Up and on, up and on.
Ever upward to the fight
Ever upward to the light
Ever true to God and Right
Up and on, up and on.

Choosing A Career

Dear Readers:

I am addressing this article to students who are in their final year of secondary school and who may be feeling a little anxious about their futures at this time.  People thinking about choosing another career can also benefit.

Choosing a career can be a daunting task.  You may be in the career that you choose for the next 40 years of your life, so you should not choose carelessly.  Allow me to suggest the following selection method.

1.  Identify your Aptitudes First, I would suggest that you identify your aptitudes. They may be several things.  Identifying your aptitudes can be challenging since you must give each subject a fair chance.  Please do not judge your aptitude by the grades that you have received at school; they can be poor aptitude indicators.  A few examples may suffice here.1. You may not think that you like music if you were only taught music theory, but you may excel if you learnt to play an instrument “by ear’.

2. Similarly, you may not think that you like foreign languages, like Spanish, but you may excel if you learnt conversational Spanish.

3. You may find science subjects challenging; however, try reading your science texts from the first chapter until the end and you may be surprised at how easy the subject really is.

2.  Identify your Motives

After you have identified your aptitudes, identify some jobs that you think that you would find attractive.  Write them down and then ask your self, “Why do I want to do this job”. i.e. try to identify your motives. If your motive is principally to make money, then you may have identified the wrong job for you.  If your motive is principally care, then you may have identified the right job for you.  You must care about what you do rather than simply doing a good job and getting paid for your services.

3.  Get some Experience

It may be useful if you worked for a company (it can be a company of one) who offered the service that you found attractive. If they are not hiring, then offer to work for them for one month for free, explaining to them that you see it as an investment (and it is). If you have made that agreement, then DO NOT QUIT!  If you do quit, then that decision may follow you for the rest of your life. If you do not think that you can last one month without pay, then agree to work for one or two week without pay. Remember to explain that you are trying to choose a career, and therefore, you want to work in an environment that will help you to decide.

4.  Ask God to Guide You

Our national anthem states: “The Lord has been the people’s guide …”.  You are one of those people and therefore have the right to ask God for guidance.  However, while God provides the direction, you must provide the thrust and momentum.  The thrust, or the initial movement, is accomplished in the first three steps until you can secure any type of job.  The momentum is provided by you working with conscientious dedication to achieve the highest standards of competence at that job, even if it is one that you do not like.

When you are ready, God will guide you into the responsibilities that He has for you.  Therefore do not hold on too tightly to any one position of responsibility.  If someone else wants your job, then let them have it.  God will take care of you if you let Him.

Best regards,


Education Technology

Dear Readers:

Edutech represents the most dramatic change to our educational system since the introduction of coeducation, and computer literacy is an important component. The school buildings are being upgraded to receive the computer equipment, and some schools are already in possession of computers. The Caribbean Examination Council’s Information Technology course is available, and the syllabus covers a broad range of the computer’s applications. Soon, every child graduating from our secondary schools will have had the opportunity to become computer literate. There is therefore every indication that this objective of Edutech will be realised.

The introduction of the Caricom Single Market and Economy should provide our graduates with many job opportunities in the Caribbean region, and Edutech should prepare our graduates to take full advantage of such opportunities. With our students sufficiently prepared, and with the potential job opportunities in an expanded market place, unemployment in Barbados should decrease significantly.

Edutech is therefore a visionary concept. To recognize that the computer will be an integral communications facility for the next generation, and to effectively prepare and equip an entire Barbadian generation to interact in this way requires vision. The concept is therefore an excellent one and the former Minister of Education, Minister Mottley, should be commended.

The valid concerns about Edutech’s implementation should not be experienced in other stages of the project since past and current experiences should lead to continuous improvements. The expressed opinions that the computer could be learnt on the job or through extracurricular computer courses can be balanced with the knowledge that many jobs are making some form of computer literacy an application requirement, and every student may not be able to afford the cost of the computer courses. Therefore the most effective place to prepare a generation of Barbadians to become computer literate is within the school system.

Edutech therefore provides a wonderful economic opportunity for Barbados and it is an opportunity that should not be squandered. Our schools provide our students with the opportunity to learn, and our students should accept their responsibility to pay attention in the classroom despite ordinary distractions. Parents should also accept their responsibility to encourage their children in this regard. Our students are privileged to have the opportunity to learn a wide range of technical and non-technical subjects and to have the teaching and physical resources available to them to facilitate such learning. However, our students must also have a fair opportunity of learning the subject material.

The coeducational environment is an extraordinary learning environment, and approximately 75 percent of our students have found that this environment is too challenging, despite the relatively high standard of teaching and physical resources. Serious concerns have been raised about the coeducational system over the past 25 years, and various recommendations have been made to improve the system in order to minimize its harmful consequences. A few schools have implemented unisex classrooms with favourable results. However, the majority of schools have made no improvements to the system since its introduction. They seem to be waiting on some guidance from the Ministry of Education before implementing any improvements.

Over the past approximately 30 years, there has been limited relevant statistical data made public to allow anyone to evaluate the magnitude of the effects of co-education. At some school speech days, there are some shocking revelations being made by various principals, and sometimes equally shocking revelations from Ministry of Education officials on some of the challenges within the system. These seem to be indications of a massive problem that needs urgent attention. However, there seems to be a general fear of addressing the problems.

It is hoped that the Ministry of Education will collect and analyse relevant statistical data on Edutech in order to evaluate its performance. Such data should include various heath effects like eye and wrist strain. If these and other problems are found to occur, then they should not be ignored out of a fear that the Edutech system will be dismantled. Instead, they should promptly address the problems, thus ensuring a continuous improvement of the system for the benefit of us all.


Grenville Phillips II

An Agenda for the Ministry of Education

Dear Readers:

Agendas are useful tools that can help us to remain focused on our plans. Without agendas, we could easily become distracted with extraneous issues and fail to achieve our goals. If agendas are followed, then the path is clearer and although there may be challenges in addressing various intermediate items, the knowledge that such items are only temporary can be comforting.

There is confidence when following an agenda, especially for leaders facing opposition from those who are being led. An agenda can assist them as they persevere upon the agreed path through the expected and unexpected challenges towards the expected results.

Before leading persons into the “promised land”, it is prudent for leaders to seek consensus on the agenda from the community of followers and to explain the expected results. It is more challenging to do so during the temporary disappointments of failed expectations that may be experienced along the journey. History is littered with disillusioned participants of failed exploits who had no knowledge of their leader’s agenda.

Sometimes it is necessary to revise or completely abandon an agenda when new information makes agenda items or the entire agenda irrelevant. This takes courage since the leader risks ridicule. However, revisiting an agenda is obligatory if the agenda that was designed for the community’s benefit is later found to be incompatible with the community’s positive development.

All government ministries should have agendas. One item on the Ministry of Education’s agenda is secondary school co-education. Over 25 years of co-education in Barbados’ secondary schools has shown that it is incompatible for learning for the majority of our students. However, there is an unwillingness by the Ministry of Education to revisit their agenda.

The physiological differences between boy’s and girl’s brains are stark. Due to limited connecting fibres between boys’ left and right brain hemispheres, they find it challenging to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. During the puberty years, boys have a novel experience of finding girls fascinating and when given the choice to impress a girl or to pay attention to classroom studies, boys will tend to try to impress the girl. Girls are able to concentrate on conversing with boys and studying at the same time, as a result of the significantly greater number of connections between their left and right brain hemispheres.

Boys also mature emotionally, mentally, and physically later than girls, therefore teaching and grading boys and girls at the same age level is blatantly unfair to boys. A relatively simple cost effective solution is to place secondary school boys and girls in separate classrooms. The knowledge of the physiological differences between boys and girls, and the relatively poor performance of most of our boys has not resulted in a change to the Ministry’s agenda. However, the charge that our boys should simply try harder and learn to get along demonstrates an appalling level of ignorance.

A common strategy used by persons who are intent on maintaining their agenda, despite obvious critical flaws, is to proclaim the complexity of the issues and to call for additional studies to justify no action. This is typically coupled with a dismissive arrogance towards commonsense solutions, which are generally regarded as simplistic. History has shown that most effective solutions are actually quite simplistic and commonsense.

There is evidence of the general destructive nature of secondary school co-education on boys’ aptitude, yet the evidence does not result in a change in the Ministry’s agenda. It is very difficult to justify pursuing the failed policy of co-education with its largely negative consequences for learning and its obvious disadvantages to boys. It is also challenging to understand how the Cabinet of Barbados can continue to sanction such a failed system.

For the past 25 years we have been forced to follow an agenda. One item on this agenda is the perpetuation of a system of co-education, which has shown to be generally incompatible with learning and disadvantageous to boys. The Ministry of Education has resisted revising their agenda, despite their own admission that approximately 70% to 75% of our secondary school students leave school without a single examination certificate. This suggests that secondary school co-education is a critical part of an agenda that we are forced to follow. Perhaps it is time for the Ministry of Education to explain this agenda.


Grenville Phillips II

Education in Crisis

Dear Readers:

This article is not written for the 25% to 30% of our students who are disciplined enough to study with limited encouragement, but rather for the remaining 70% to 75% of students who do not do well. Regrettably, the students who would benefit most from this article are unlikely to read it without substantial encouragement. I therefore hope to influence their parents and other concerned persons.

If a child learnt high standards of information or behaviour, then achieving or maintaining similar high standards would tend to come naturally for that child. For example, if the standard of written and spoken English learnt was high, then speaking and writing well would happen naturally. However, the child would need to exercise effort to speak sub-standard English or to use expletives. Therefore if excellence in behaviour and ability is to be a natural part of our children, then it is important that they are exposed to the good, the excellent, the best, the ideal – essentially the highest standards available.

Whatever standards a child learns initially, and is reinforced, become the standards that govern their adult behaviour. High standards should therefore be promoted in primary school and reinforced in secondary school. Parents, teachers, and youth leaders can assist in this regard by maintaining and promoting high standards themselves. If they are unable to do this, then they should decline when identified as role models for our youth.

When persons graduate from our secondary schools, they should be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to be trained for most responsibilities. This objective is at variance with the co-educational learning environment at our secondary schools, and with the spiral curriculum adopted by the Ministry responsible for education, which are major hindrances to learning for the majority of our students.

People can be trained for most responsibilities, regardless of the number of certificates that they might have obtained, provided that they have learnt to effectively communicate, calculate, conclude through analysis and logic, and be creative. Parents can help their children to develop these necessary skills.

Parents reading to and encouraging their children to read a high standard of English literature can facilitate high standards of communication. Good quality English stories can fuel a child’s imagination and facilitate their creativity. Time for reading should be gotten from time spent watching the television.

Parents can facilitate their children’s learning of some fundamental science concepts by giving them responsibilities. Some fundamental concepts of: biology can be learnt by planting and tending a kitchen garden, chemistry by cooking dinner, physics by performing household maintenance activities, and arithmetic by grocery shopping with a budget. Most of these activities can be done during the weekend or after school.

Parents can also help to prepare their children to learn detailed information by encouraging them to listen to a high standard of complex music. This can include high quality classical orchestra and steel pan music. I would not suggest complex jazz where the basic musical rules are sometimes bent in the name of creativity, or hard rock where notes are sometimes distorted, or some forms of reggae and rap where bass notes are overemphasised to the point of distortion. These forms can be appreciated later, but early exposure can limit a child’s appreciation of other musical forms that share the same musical scale.

Admittedly it is unlikely that the majority of the new generation of parents, who are themselves products of the same deficient school system, will read good literature to their children, turn off the TV, patiently supervise their children in household maintenance activities, and play classical music. The solution must therefore lie with the formal educational system.

We cannot expect to perpetuate a system where 75% of persons are very poorly prepared to enter the workforce, and then hope to produce general standards of excellence in the public or private sector. The unproductively associated with poorly prepared employees has obvious negative consequences for Barbados’ economy. The Government is a major employer and the public sector reform initiative is an ineffective response for so many poorly prepared employees.

The challenge for Barbados is for the Ministry responsible for education to critically examine the harm done by their ill-advised policies to our students, parents, businesses, social services, and Barbados’ economy, and have the courage to change.

Dear University Students

Dear University Students:

As you prepare to enter or return to university, please receive the following advice based upon my observations during my time at university.

1. Be yourself.
Being in a new environment where nobody knows you can provide you with the temptation to pretend to be someone whom you are not, simply to become accepted into a particular group. Please overcome this temptation quickly, otherwise you may find yourself emotionally exhausted which will negatively impact on your effort to study. It is beneficial to attempt to change your behaviour to eliminate some unhealthy habit, but attempting to change your personality can be a tiring and embarrassing exercise.

2. Have a positive attitude about learning.
Developing and maintaining a positive attitude about your studies can make learning pleasurable instead of something to be endured. This attitude should be maintained especially for subjects that you do not believe are directly applicable to your chosen career path.

3. Listen to classical music.
Listening to long complex classical musical renditions can help to train your mind to receive sustained complex information that you must receive from your professor or from your technical textbook.

4. Study under different conditions.
If you find that you have difficulty concentrating, then try modifying your study environment. Try a quiet library or a crowded cafeteria or a comfortable common room. Also try studying in rooms with walls of different colours and spaces with varying light intensities. Keep trying until you find the right environment for you.

5. Understand the information.
Make an effort to understand the information conveyed to you rather than simply attempting to remember it. If you only remember it, then it will be retained as information in your brain. However if you understand it, then it will become knowledge to you, and when impacted by wisdom can yield something creative. If you have difficulty understanding the information, then ask your professor to explain it again, read the introductory chapters in the textbook, read a rudimentary prerequisite textbook from the library, but please don’t settle for remembering just to pass an exam, strive to understand.

6. Resist peer pressure.
I have witnessed quite a few Caribbean students, including Barbadians, who failed to overcome the temptation to use drugs, and never got to complete their studies. Don’t worry about what others are doing, resist the peer pressure.

7. Don’t become distracted from the goal.
After you have graduated, there is plenty of time to seek a mate. When I entered university, I met a fellow Caribbean student in his second year of study who would not resist the temptations of the local girls. He finally got one pregnant. Ten years later, he had 3 children and was still struggling to finish his first degree while working to support his family. Girl (boy) friends are significant distractions to serious studying if the relationship becomes intimate.

8. Mature as a person.
Spend these years wisely. Participate in sporting events, develop friendships (not intimate ones) with people from other parts of the world, become an active member of one of the student organisations, and join a nearby Church.

9. Know the Lord.
You may be attending a university in a country where the Lord is not exalted to the same degree that He is here. He may have been many years ago, but their current generation may have rejected the God of their grandparents and chosen for themselves gods of money, beer, and sexual gratification. It is vitally important therefore that you develop and maintain a close relationship with the Lord Jesus. If you spend time communing with your Creator, who has all knowledge, then you can only benefit.

10. Don’t get caught up with causes.
There is a lot wrong with the world, and the world needs people who can articulate the problems and propose solutions. Your time at university will provide you with some tools used in defining problems and designing solutions. However don’t become embroiled in activism. It is not your time yet. Some circumvent the process and become activists too early, long before they have been taught the tools of designing solutions. They therefore run the risk of constantly being negative and critical and unable to propose workable solutions, only idealist jargon.

I wish you good success in your studies and trust that you will be patient in your academic learning and personal development.

Secondary School Curriculum

Dear Readers:

Before the onset of puberty, connections are formed between a child’s brain cells at a level of efficiency that is unmatched in a person’s later development. During puberty, those connections that were rarely used are destroyed, while those that are used become strengthened. It would therefore be beneficial if the primary and secondary schools’ curriculum could be designed to take advantage of a child’s natural cognitive strengths during these two stages of their development.

Last week, we suggested a primary school curriculum of teaching students to understand the fundamental concepts of core subjects, rather than teaching them to remember detailed technical information. Today, we shall suggest a curriculum for secondary school, which builds upon the primary school curriculum presented last week.

At this point, it is useful to identify two common methods of testing that can influence teaching. The first method tests a persons recall ability or their ability to remember information. The second method tests a person’s knowledge or their understanding of information. Recall testing is typically used in psychological experiments, while knowledge tests are common at graduate university level. From primary school to undergraduate university level, teachers generally employ a combination of recall and knowledge tests. It should be noted that recall tests are much easier for a teacher and teaching institutions to set and grade.

Information that is understood becomes knowledge for the student. Information that is not understood, but which can be recalled remains in the realm of information. Testing a person’s ability to recall information does not effectively measure how much information that a student understands. Education should be principally about understanding information. Recall testing may therefore not be a fair nor effective method of assessment for educational purposes.

Typical recall dominated teaching and testing is: Barbados became independent in 1966. When did Barbados become independent? 1966. Knowledge dominated teaching and testing requires a student to demonstrate their understanding of a subject. Remembering detailed information at this stage is comparatively insignificant since such information can be easily referenced. However, it is important that the student understand the referenced information. It is suggested that the Common Entrance Examination could be designed to test a student’s knowledge.

When students enter secondary school, there is a time of transition as they adjust to the new psychological, emotional, and physical changes brought on by puberty. It would therefore be beneficial if prerequisite courses that build on the fundamental information learnt at primary school were taught. These include basic mathematics, English, integrated science, geography, Spanish, music, art, and physical education. Under the current system, students generally spend 5 years before they are allowed to take the CXC exams. According to the CXC, their syllabus’ can be completed within 2 years. Students could therefore be allowed to take these CXC examinations after their second year.

In the third year the students could be taught the remaining core subjects, namely: general mathematics, information technology, history, religious knowledge, and physical education. They could also be allowed to choose up to four other courses from the following: physics, chemistry, biology, business, accounts, French, English literature, technical drawing, agricultural science, and industrial arts. The students can then take these CXC examinations in their fourth year.

The students will have up to 15 CXC certificates by this time, and they can either attend university, pursue CAPE courses, or prepare to enter the workforce. To prepare for work, students can spend one or two years completing the following preparatory trade subjects that are offered at CXC: agricultural science, office procedures, principles of business, typewriting, home economics, and industrial technology. They can also take the applicable CXC exam.

Secondary school students can therefore be sufficiently prepared to enter the workforce as employees or as entrepreneurs, or be prepared to attend university. It is my sincere hope that primary and secondary school education can become an exciting and fulfilling experience for all students, by allowing them to learn in an environment that supports their natural cognitive strengths.

Primary School Curriculum

Dear Readers:

There is a window of opportunity in human development, when learning can occur at a level of efficiency to make what is learnt become an intuitive or natural part of the person. When this occurs, and such persons receive the opportunity to learn advanced information, or to demonstrate what they know, then they are typically described as of having an aptitude for learning, or possessing natural talent.

This window of opportunity occurs before children reach puberty. It is therefore advantageous to students if they master fundamental concepts of core subjects during this time. Memorizing technical terms or specific dates of events are not required for mastering fundamental concepts. It is therefore suggested that the primary school curriculum be modified to take advantage of the child’s natural cognitive strengths.

Understanding the fundamental concepts of core subjects should provide Barbadian students with sufficient general knowledge to interact intelligently with others, and develop sensible solutions to problems. It should also provide them with an excellent foundation to understand more complex information. The suggested core subject areas are: communication, economics, science, music, art, history and ethics. Since primary school students will efficiently learn what they sense, it is important that they be exposed to standards of excellence in all of these subject areas.

To facilitate the student speaking and writing a high standard of English and Spanish, the child should listen to well spoken English and Spanish, and read well-written books. All primary school teachers should speak clear standard English, and correct students whenever they speak improperly at school.

Correct grammar and sentence structure can therefore become a natural part of the student without the student having to separately memorize technical information like pronouns, and adjectives. If teaching resources are limited, conversational Spanish can be taught, and students can be encouraged to listen to a good Spanish radio broadcast.

It should be noted that poor parenting can frustrate the best school curriculum. It is disadvantageous to children if they are pacified by watching television programs, where they are forced to assimilate the poor grammar and sentence structure that are typical in children’s television programs. Parents can facilitate their children’s academic development by reading to them, and encouraging them to borrow and read well-written books from the library.

Children can learn the basic economic system by participating in a controlled school economy. They can use monopoly type money to purchase goods and services at the school. Students can also earn “money” by being obedient, responsive and helpful, and can donate or lend “money” to their fellow students. The student can record every transaction in their exercise books, and calculate the balance left in their account after every transaction.

After two years, the child can be given a “credit card” instead of money, and continue to make transactions and calculate the balance. The students can also learn to budget and perform functions like calculating the average amount of “money” spent each day, and the total amount of “money” in circulation. Therefore the student can appreciate the economic system and how arithmetic is integrated into daily activities, without having arithmetic being taught as a separate subject.

Basic concepts in applied science can be learnt by constructing simple structural, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and civil engineering experiments. Thus the student can learn the fundamentals of physics, chemistry, geography, mathematics, and industrial arts without being taught to memorize the associated technical information and jargon.

Music and Art
Music can be taught by allowing the students to listen to well-played music using a range or rhythms and instruments. They should also be taught to play the recorder, keyboard, and a percussion instrument by ear. They do not need to be exposed to detailed music theory at this stage. For art, they can be taught to draw geometric and natural forms.

History and Ethics
Students should understand what is right and wrong. They have a conscience to guide them, which should be reinforced with examples in history.

Next week, a suggested curriculum for secondary school.

Beyond the Boundary

Dear Readers:

Prior to our independence, the system of education in Barbadian primary and secondary schools was very effective in providing graduates with a strong academic foundation, which facilitated high achievement in any field once the graduate was given the opportunity. Persons who graduated from those primary schools were also reportedly more functionally literate than most graduating from our primary and secondary schools today. What has happened to cause such a drastic change?

Defenders of the existing curriculum claim that declining academic standards is a complex and worldwide phenomenon, and use this claim in defence of the status quo. They are correct in that it is a worldwide phenomenon, but it is not complex. Barbados simply undervalued its effective system of education that prepared students to take advantage of opportunities, and adopted an inferior foreign one that tended to retard all students.

Despite continuous criticism from experienced educators like the late Gladstone Holder, the current system of education was allowed to remain. This was to be expected given the typical reluctance of governments worldwide to change policies that they have introduced. I had therefore decided a long ago that I would rather teach my children myself than have them retarded them in the current system of education.

I was therefore elated when our minister of education recently stated one of the principal solutions to education’s problems so soon after receiving the education portfolio. Two weeks ago, while reporting the now expected mediocre common entrance examination results, our minister of education reportedly stated that our curriculum needed to be revised. Due to my avid interest in education, I am still feeling buoyant with excitement at this wonderful opportunity for Barbados. Therefore today and for the remainder of this month, we shall examine the issue of educational reform.

In 1960, a Harvard professor named Jerome Brunner devised a theory to facilitate curriculum development based on how he thought infants learnt. The theory was designed mainly for teaching mathematics to children in a controlled environment.

After Brunner’s theory was published, nations that had no effective system of education prematurely adopted Brunner’s theory and used it to develop syllabuses for all subjects. However, other nations that had established and effective educational systems inexplicably rejected them and adopted Brunner’s system. Barbados falls into the latter category of nations, and despite clear evidence of Brunner’s system’s inefficiency it continues to be used for all subjects taught at primary and secondary schools in Barbados.

Brunner’s system is commonly called the spiral curriculum and the title is descriptive. It is based on the philosophy of cyclic repetitions with the subject becoming more complex with each successive repetition. The strict adherence to the system should generally lead to learning by students. However, the curriculum promotes a mediocre overall achievement even when it is successfully implemented. Brunner’s system has been successfully implemented in Barbados for approximately 30 years with predictable mediocre results. The question is, are we satisfied with the mediocre or do we want excellence.

While the system may appear to work with infants in nursery school, it promotes an unnatural structure that forces students into a controlled cycle of learning that essentially stifles excellence. The system does not encourage students to learn beyond the boundaries of the syllabuses allocated to that cycle. Interested students must wait for one or more years until the material is taught in another cycle, at which time the desire to learn that information may have subsided. Alternatively, they can attempt to learn the information independently. However, this is becoming more challenging since satisfying the requirements of an increasingly packed syllabus leaves students will little free time.

The spiral curriculum is at variance with the more natural method of teaching to satisfy the hungry minds of students. Students who excel, do not allow the spiral curriculum to restrict them, and instead satisfy their own minds by going beyond the boundaries of the syllabus.

Next week, I will suggest an outline curriculum for primary school students.

Lead in the Balance

Dear Readers:

Three weeks ago I suggested 5 ways in which parents can encourage students who were not performing well academically. However, for the sake of completion, there are several environmental factors that can frustrate the best parental encouragement. One major environmental factor that is known to impair learning is lead, and the likely sources are leaded paint, automobile emissions, and water.

Lead poisoning is easy to misdiagnose since its symptoms are similar to those of other ailments. In young children, they include hyperactivity and headaches. In older children they include irritability, poor muscle coordination, high blood pressure, poor memory and poor concentration. If children are not treated early, it can retard mental and physical development, reduce attention spans, and lead to irreversible brain damage. Testing of blood for lead is available in Barbados, however such tests are reportedly very rarely requested.

Leaded Gasoline
In 1999, the government, in a highly responsible initiative, banned leaded gasoline, thus significantly reducing the risk of direct exposure to lead by students who walked to school along heavily trafficked roadways. However residential and school properties that bounded these roadways could have previously accumulated significant residues of lead. If this lead was not properly removed, then it could negatively affect the health of the residents.

It would be useful for the government to investigate whether a correlation exists between children whose homes lie within 15 metres of a busy roadway, and their academic achievement and complaints of illnesses. It would also be useful for the government to test dust samples around such properties for lead.

Should the investigation reveal a correlation, and should significant lead residues be found, then those currently living, working, and studying in such vulnerable areas should be tested, and if required, treated for lead poisoning. They should also be examined for the harmful effects of other automobile emissions, especially those that cause and aggravate asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

Leaded Paint
Most paint used in Barbados after the mid 1970’s probably only contained trace amounts of lead. However before that time, the paint could have been heavily leaded. Exposure to lead from lead based paint mainly occurs when the paint deteriorates or is removed improperly, and the dust particles are ingested or inhaled.

The government’s Edutech program, which includes rehabilitating old schools, is a highly responsible initiative. However removing heavily leaded paint is a very dangerous construction activity that can place those near the paint removal activity, their families, and the students and teachers who will subsequently use the school, at severe risk of exposure to lead.

Removing lead based paint should not simply be left up to the Contractor. The Contractor should be made to follow the removal and disposal directives of the Environmental Engineering Department, or internationally accepted protocols in this regard.

Leaded Water Pipes
Prior to around the mid 1980’s, lead pipes were installed to be convey water to houses and schools in Barbados. In a highly responsible initiative, the Barbados Water Authority has discontinued the use of lead water pipes in Barbados, and if lead pipes are discovered during pipe repair activities, they are replaced with pipes of another material. However, in residential, commercial, and public buildings, including schools, lead solders are used to join hot water copper pipes, and brass faucets that leach lead are generally being used.

Barbados’ water has a high mineral content, which results in a build-up of a protective layer within the pipe. However, the build-up process can take approximately 5 years to completely cover the lead areas. Therefore houses, schools, or plumbing that are less than 5 years old are potential sources of lead poisoning. To reduce the risk of lead poisoning, water that is to be ingested should be drawn from the cold-water tap, and the initial 30-second morning draw should not be ingested but collected for other uses.

For the sake of our children’s future, the use of all lead based: paint, pipes, brass faucets, plumbing fittings and solders should be immediately restricted in Barbados.

Encouraging our Students

Dear Readers:

The Ministry of Education’s 2002 statistics indicated that many secondary school students would have found learning challenging in 2003. Following the release of the 2002 year’s poor academic results, the Ministry reported that not all students were academically inclined, and that some should be directed to work with their hands. Should some of our children be directed to “work with their hands” simply because their examination results are currently below average? Today, we shall place this concept in the balance.

I was one of those students whose percentage mark and class position were sometimes indistinguishable between first and fourth form. I tried to understand the information, but generally had difficulty remembering it, especially during tests. However between fourth and fifth form, my ability to retain information improved sufficiently to allow me to graduate from Combermere, and then complete two Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

When students perform poorly academically, various persons including relatives, friends, and teachers sometimes make statements that can reinforce the notion that such students are not academically inclined. One of the worst things that can happen to children, is for them to believe that people in whom they trust, have given-up on them in some significant area of their lives. With others making discouraging and negative statements about a child’s learning ability, it is left to the parents to cancel such statements with encouragement before the child believes them. Getting children to disbelieve negative statements about themselves requires very much effort.

Unless children are brain damaged, they can learn, and if a subject is taught systematically, then students can learn any subject. All students should be taught a variety of subjects, including those that require them to work with their hands. What then can parents do to encourage their children who do not appear to be performing well academically?

First, students need to believe that they can achieve academically even if such learning currently appears to be challenging. They need to understand that a state of not knowing, or ignorance, is a natural part of learning since everyone starts in that state before achieving knowledge.

Therefore if students are having difficulty understanding the information in the fourth chapter of a textbook, then they should be encouraged to study a previous chapter that they find easier to understand and progress from there. Some teachers do not teach the earlier chapters either because they assume that their students are familiar with that information, or it is not a part of the syllabus. However, understanding the information in later chapters is typically dependant on understanding the preceding information. Subsequent poor test results should inform teachers that the students may not be familiar with the pre-requisite information. If the subject is not being taught systematically, then parents should encourage their children to use the textbook to learn the subject in this manner.

Secondly, students need to understand that there is a difference between understanding information and merely remembering it. Understanding information requires considerably more effort and persistence, and is the only method of converting information to knowledge. Some testing methods, like multiple-choice, tend to favour the student who simply remembers the information. Parents should encourage their children to make the effort to understand the information, despite its challenges, since understanding will facilitate the application of knowledge.

Thirdly, parents need to understand their child’s need for emotional stability, especially during the natural physiological and emotional changes that children experience during adolescence. Parents can facilitate that stability by providing clear moral guidance, and by remaining committed to their families.

Fourthly, parents need to confront three damaging problems currently facing our students, namely pre-marital sex, drugs, and pornography. Parents should ensure that their homes are not vulnerable places for their children by not abusing the use of alcohol and tobacco. Parents should also ensure that the computer with Internet access is not in a child’s bedroom to tempt them to access pornographic sites, but in a trafficked open space.

Finally, parents should not punish their children for poor academic results. Punishments should be reserved for acts of defiance, and not for mistakes.

Teachers in the Balance

Dear Readers:

As parents, teachers and students are preparing for another school year, it seems timely to focus on the influence of teachers in this week’s column.

The adolescent period can be described as emotionally turbulent as teenagers react to dramatic hormone-induced changes in their bodies and brains. At this critical time of a child’s development, the parent’s guiding influence is limited, as students spend much of their time at school. Parents therefore entrust their children to the guiding influence of teachers.

At school, students tend to associate with other students who share similar behaviours, values, skills, or aspirations. The similarities that hold each group of students together can be called the culture of the group, and every group of students has a distinct culture. Students, particularly teenagers are vulnerable to and highly influenced by this culture, sometimes out of a fear of being excluded from the group.

Parents and teachers are authority figures with whom students interact daily and who therefore represent standards of excellence. Students need these standards to define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Since students are still maturing, the group’s behaviour will rarely reach the standard of their parents or teachers, however it should not fall far behind.

Some groups define their cultural identity by exhibiting behaviour that is as far from the teacher’s standard as possible, without crossing the line of unacceptability. They like to test the limits of acceptable behaviour by being rude, untidy, rebellious, or otherwise, but not to the extent to warrant severe punishment. These groups pride themselves in achieving a behaviour that is marginally acceptable.

Teachers are essentially role models whose primary assets are their ability to both discipline themselves and effectively convey information. If teachers adopt low or marginally acceptable standards of behaviour, then their students will tend to view this as an implied acceptable standard by which their own behaviour should be measured, and adopt even lower standards.

Unfortunately the consequences of falling below standards of sexual purity and marital fidelity can be the incurable HIV AIDS, and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases. Also, the consequences of falling below high ethical standards can ruin a professional’s career. It is therefore absolutely necessary for both parents and teachers to be responsible and disciplined enough to maintain and promote high standards of behaviour. That is one of the responsibilities of becoming a parent and choosing the vocation of a teacher.

Responsible teachers have existed and still do exist. I remember Mr Harry Sealy, who was my form master and mathematics teacher at Combermere School. He was also an example of a perfect gentleman with the ability to gently discipline, or critically encourage students. He possessed an impressive and varied array of positive qualities, all in controlled equilibrium, and which, when required, were deftly brought to the fore.

I also remember Mr Deighton Maynard who taught me English language. His daily use of impeccable English did more to influence my writing ability than all of the valuable classroom subject material that he taught, and his consistency in decorum was an example and model to the entire student body.

Then there was Mr Timothy Callendar who taught art with an unbridled passion, and encouraged every student regardless of the amount of promise they showed. I cannot fail to mention Mr Karl Broodhagen. He also taught me art and exhibited great patience and encouragement if a student appeared to make a genuine effort. Any genuine effort, no matter how small, would elicit Mr. Broodhagen’s infectious excitement, and unleash his priceless knowledge of art and things related.

While these and other teachers influenced my behaviour and those of thousands of other students, they were in my case, making adjustments to a stone that was already moving under the inertia of the guidance of my parents. My parents taught me English and mathematics, gave me an appreciation for art and music, and demonstrated to me a respect for God and all forms of authority. I was therefore one of those who became a beneficiary of the culture of Combermere before I ever entered the school’s gates.

Our students are facing significant challenges to achieve in today’s popular cultural environment. It is therefore essential for both parents and teachers to work in their respective spheres of influence, to exhibit and promote standards of excellence in their behaviour.

Culture in the Balance

Dear Readers:

Today I must acknowledge the passing of Mr Gladstone Holder, a literary giant and a graduate of and former teacher at Combermere School.

I do not recall ever meeting him, yet I knew him as I know all who have passed through the gates of Combermere and have sought to be guided by its culture. This culture is embodied in the school’s song and promoted by parents, teachers, senior students and graduates who recognise its value and their responsibility to perpetuate it.

Lives are in the making here;
Hearts are in the waking here;
Mighty undertaking here;
Up and on, up and on.

This is the beginning of the wonder of Combermere. Singing the school song at least once each week for the duration of one’s stay at Combermere is a process of indoctrination that results in a subconscious inculcation of values. Also, the influence of the daily morning’s assembly, where the students sing hymns in praise to God and are prayed for by the head of the school, cannot be underestimated.

The impact of this exercise may not by fully appreciated by the student. However, its guiding influence will not be denied upon the behaviour and attitude any student who ventures within the gates of Combermere.

We are armoured for the fight;
Pressing on with all our might;
Pluming wings for higher flight;
Up and on, Up and on.

The culture of Combermere is one where teenagers are being prepared for responsibilities yet unknown and seemingly unreachable at the time. Yet during the turbulent adolescent years, the singing of the song every week and the participation in the daily hymns, prayers and extracurricular school activities results in the development of an inexplicable stability as virtues like discipline, fairness, and perseverance are continually reinforced.

Up then, truest flame lies in high endeavour;
Play the game, keep the flame burning brightly ever.

The only demands required of the students in order that they may be beneficiaries of this culture is that they attend morning assembly, and respect authority in whatever form it appears, whether parents, teachers, senior students, or visiting graduates.

The song is particularly applicable to those who have graduated. The culture embodied in the school song prepares one for the temporary joys and disappointments of life – for the pleasure of achievement and the pain of rejection. If the graduates find themselves in an environment where the popular culture is an antithesis of all that is Combermere, the words are a comfort if they happen to stumble, and an encouragement to persevere.

Foes in plenty we shall meet;
Hearts courageous scorn defeat;
So we press with eager feet;
Up and on, up and on.

The school song is Combermere’s greatest inheritance. Its culture is Combermere’s priceless treasure, and the parents, teachers, senior students and graduates who pass on this culture are Combermere’s most valuable assets. Without them, Combermere will simply become a school without character, graduating students with some knowledge but devoid of good lasting guiding values.

The culture of Combermere is not exclusive to the School, however, for it can be recognised in many persons who attended schools with similar values, like Wesley Hall, St Giles, and St Michaels Girls. It is recognised in parents who are persistent in their efforts to guide their children into what is right. It is also recognised in teachers and nurses who are selfless in their dedication to helping others.

As I listened to Mr Holder’s sons speak of their relationship with their father and with God during the funeral, they spoke, not with a dry respect for, but a passionate love for both. I recognised that they too were beneficiaries of this culture of Combermere. Persons guided by this culture are not motivated by greed and selfishness, but by something higher.

Ever upward to the fight;
Ever upward to the light;
Ever true to God and right;
Up and on, up and on.

Grenville Phillips II is a Civil Engineer and a Graduate of Combermere School.

Co-education in the Balance – Part 2

Dear Readers:

Last week we learnt that generally boy’s and girl’s brains are different. This week, we shall examine the impacts of those differences on learning in a co-educational environment.

Since the connections between the right and left hemispheres of a girl’s brain remain intact, she has the natural ability to play and work at the same time and be productive at both. With boys however, the reduced connections between their left and right brain hemispheres allows them to give any subject undivided attention. Boys can therefore work or play, and can be very productive at one or the other but generally not both at the same time.

Recognising this concept makes learning an efficient exercise for both sexes. A boy has the natural ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. If he quietly tries to understand a subject in steps, one step at a time, he should succeed.

Girls have the natural ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. Girls therefore have the ability to consider different criteria at the same time to identify solutions to problems. Boys however would need to follow the more time consuming approach of considering each criterion separately to achieve the same result.

This has an impact on the design of examination questions and the time allotted to complete each question, however it does not impact learning, just the measure of whether learning has occurred. There is however one major challenge that has an impact on learning.

Puberty begins at around age 10 and lasts until about age 18. During this time, hormones are released in the body that cause physiological and emotional changes in both sexes. One change is that the sexes become attracted to each other.

This is a new and exciting experience for teenagers as they find themselves fascinated with the opposite sex. In the classroom, the academic information usually competes with an attractive girl for the boy’s attention, and the desire to study pales in comparison to the desire to win the affection of an attractive girl.

If an attractive girl is sitting near a boy in the classroom, or facing him across a table in a science lab, then it becomes very difficult for the boy to concentrate on his studies. The heightened feelings of self-consciousness, and the strong and almost constant desire to impress the girl is not an emotional state that facilitates learning. Girls also find boys fascinating, however they have the ability to feel the emotional attraction and concentrate on their studies. The attraction that they feel then does not have to compete with their concentration o their studies. Whereas boys can either feel the emotional attraction or concentrate on their studies.

Boys who perform well, generally do so because they are either disciplined enough to study the classroom material later by themselves, or they receive supplementary tutoring from relatives, friends, or teachers. Completing homework is therefore critical to the academic success of boys in the co-educational system for it forces them to review the material presented in the classroom. However for some subjects, preparing homework is an inefficient exercise if the classroom material was not understood.

Some subjects can be reviewed without the assistance of a teacher and be understood with some effort, however there are other subjects that require a teacher. Fundamental concepts of subjects like mathematics, physics, chemistry and foreign languages need to be taught by teachers. Otherwise the material will not be learned efficiently leading to the syllabus not being completed in time for progression to the next level.

Every student can achieve academically, however the co-educational environment does not facilitate the concentration required of boys for academic learning. To facilitate a system that is not so disadvantageous to boys, perhaps consideration can be given to making the classes of our co-educational schools unisex.

Next week we will examine a related issue. During adolescence, many students assert that they are in love, however within a few months, they assert with equal conviction that they no longer love the person. Some argue that love is permanent while others argue that it is temporary.