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SK's Monroe College 2010 Graduation address "How Are The Children"

A NEW EDUCATION PARADIGM OF ACCESSIBILITY NOT SELECTIVITY: EVERY ABILITY MATCHED WITH OPPORTUNITY Dr Stephen King10th October 2010 “How are the Children?” I need to start by keeping a promise to myself; therefore I dedicate my speech to my mother, Anne King 13th May 1931- 12th May 2010, a great teacher. I do this in honour of all of our great ones who have gone before.  

I take you now to East Africa to the place we now call Kenya where the great Masai Tribe lives. This tribe of great and fearsome warriors traditionally greet each other with the words “Kaserian Ingera?” which means “how are the children?”, this greeting emphasizes the warriors understanding of the value of their youth, the responsibility they feel to ensure that the children are safe, the understanding that the quality of lives today and in the future are determined by the health of our youth. 

I wonder if our greeting to each other was “how are the children?” if policy makers, civil servants, business people had that clear focus would our society be better than it is right now? What is your understanding of education? Let us go to the etymological root of the word, the Latin educare – to bring up, rear and educere – to lead out. Therefore the root of education suggests that education is to develop people through a process of leading, which involves both self leadership in which there is self discovery of knowledge and the external leadership in which we teach knowledge. 

A definition of education is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. The power of knowledge cannot be underestimated as there is nothing more important, you cannot even feed yourself if you are not taught. The importance of knowledge is captured by the quote that I will continue to use until it is firmly implanted in every Saint Lucian’s mind, “The fundamental cure for poverty is, not money, but knowledge”, Sir Arthur Lewis, Nobel Laureate, Economics, 1979. 

For me the hallmark of an educated person is one who is hungry for knowledge: someone who uses every moment throughout their lives to increase their knowledge of all things, an educated person has the literacy and numeracy skills to acquire knowledge from many sources; an educated person can transform knowledge into creative thoughts and actions; an educated person can think critically and thereby produce wise decisions and actions. I have not said that an educated person is one with a degree, a degree is a piece of paper that validates that you underwent a course of training. I think a degree is a great achievement but it does not necessarily mean the person is educated in the manner that we need. 

Do not for a minute think that this is an anti-intellectual statement because far from that I am an unrelenting advocate for intellectualism and I pray for the day that we will have that strong, robust, vociferous, engaged Saint Lucian intelligentsia.  My point is that everyone resident in the country can and should be educated. Indeed make no mistake everyone is educated in one way or the other by the very nature of life, education is a natural process, as my friend Ronald Boo Hinkson says educated by the University of Life. 

When we see drug dealers on our streets with a following of youth, corrupt officials in our institutions and killers for hire living with apparent impunity: understand all of this happens because the environment in our society is bringing people up to make this happen, we are educating our people this way. 

If you can accept this then you can also understand why when the warrior asks me “How are the children?”  I must respond that the children are not well, we are not schooling our children with the knowledge we should; the warriors are sleeping while the children are being destroyed. A new education paradigm must be one that embraces learning in the holistic manner; that is learning to be a healthy, engaged, productive citizen. A new education paradigm must recognize the natural forces of selectivity. Believe it or not all life, including, human life, evolves based on environmental force. 

Therefore the new education paradigm must address the forces that select out of the main stream many of our young who come from homes or communities in which they see and feel violence and abuse. Abuse that comes in many forms, emotional and physical: they learn that abuse of women and children is a way of life, abuse of oneself and ones people is a way of life. They learn that badness works, after all you must be able to protect yourself, badness is glorified in music and various media and by peers. They learn that the boss man can fix things up for you, they learn that it is not what you know but who you know that works for you. They see the illusion that crime pays. Then they go to school, at first, in their early innocent years they are open to school but they soon learn that the subjects they are taught don’t seem relevant to their daily lives, they learn that the school itself reinforces the system of abuse both emotional and physical. They learn that school is hard work and that opportunity through school is not assured. They learn that school is not fair; who you know still seems to work in the school. Do you then wonder why many of our youth are disenchanted with school? Maybe I am wrong but this is what I see, do the rest of you see it, does the society see it? Do the Ministry officials and the teachers see it?  The Beatles have a beautiful line in the John Lennon song Strawberry Fields Forever that says “Living is easy with eyes closed misunderstanding all you see”.  I love the line as it evokes the image of all the persons who could be up doing something to change the situation but choose to take the easier path of apathy, remaining in a dream like state of misunderstanding. 

Some of them when challenged will spout comments like get tough, more corporal punishment, hang them. They don’t understand that is just more of the same abuse. As we all know we reap what we sow, if we want to reap, respect, care, discipline, responsibility, accountability and love then we must sow those seeds. The system must operate with these guiding values consistently, at all levels, for all people. Let me challenge you here today to open your eyes, become aware, understand what you see and act appropriately in your sphere of influence. 

A new education paradigm in the first instance must create a system of education in the schools that shows relevance of subject matter to life. Principles of citizenship, character development and learning for the workplace need to be woven into a holistic and comprehensive curriculum that makes the standard subjects we teach come to life. School must excite the mind it must be relevant to life. The youth emerging from the schools must be cognitively competent, socially competent and emotionally competent in addition to having the academic requirements to move to a higher level of education be it technical, vocational or academic. 

The school is a wonderful resource that we have to start the vital social re-engineering that we need. Let us agree not to waste any more time to make the necessary changes. Let us agree that we each have a joint, and several responsibility to advocate relentlessly for the necessary changes. Selectivity continues and gets progressively worse as one examines higher education. If a youth has the academic qualifications for higher education then the financial barriers become a major hurdle. 

Recently I had the wonderful and yet disturbing experience of the problems with access to higher education; the Illinois Institute of Technology Scholarship, National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Carl Mack opportunity for Sir Arthur Lewis and Vieux Fort Campus B graduates. I learnt how many young community college graduates were languishing despite their academic performance. I learnt that the Government process for higher education support is essentially a political process rather than an academic one, again reinforcing it is who you know not what you know. I realized that many people in our society are prepared to continue with business as usual, even if that denies opportunity to academically qualified youth. People at all levels of our society are prepared to perpetrate and believe lies rather than see the truth as long as they can stay in their comfort zone. I learnt that hypocrisy is a more common attribute than courage. I also learnt, however, that we have some great and beautiful young people. Youth that still believe in the system, still believe that education is critical, youth that are prepared to sacrifice themselves for one another to achieve a great goal. I met parents who were courageous and committed, I found people in the society in various places, including in the Government, that were prepared to step up. I also felt the great power of a lot of right thinking people in this country, and I realized that no matter how depressing things can get there is still great hope because the right minded people are still there and they can come out when the cause and time is right. I learnt that miracles do still happen if people are committed and courageous enough. I learnt that hope can rise again in our country. It was a life altering experience for many of us that were on that journey and I can assure you we will never be the same again, because our eyes open. If one is to develop this country the major way is through our human capital development. I hear successive Government’s talking about a human resource development plan, but I have not, as a member of the public put my hands on that plan yet. 

I hear successive Government’s talk about the priority list, a tool to ensure that public support is given to areas of education that are in the public interest. I can accept the logic of that approach, but I need to be assured that farsighted, visionaries are designing that list, I have yet to be convinced that people with these qualities are doing that in my country, Saint Lucia. I prefer to support youth qualified to pursue higher education in the area of their choice and use public support to allow academically qualified youth who lack the financial resources to take up the opportunity. 

Public support should be targeted to poorer people with the objective of lifting people out of poverty. It is not hard to sell the concept that if every household in the country had at least one university graduate who was working in the area of their study, poverty would be vastly alleviated. Further given the rapidly changing world of work in the world today it is almost impossible to be sure of the knowledge and skills that will best serve our development. It is far better to allow youth to pursue their positive dreams and passions in as unrestricted a way as possible, than to try to narrow the gateway to opportunity. A committed, passionate, educated youth has a great chance of being successful. 

I have confidence that a critical mass of educated, committed, passionate youth actively realizing their dreams will develop this country more effectively than a set of people whose minds are shackled by mental forms and structures of the last century further compromised by thought and emotional corruption arising from the toxic viral thought stupidity and toxic emotional environment in our media, in our workplaces, in our homes and our communities. If we want to break free it has to be by unleashing fresh new thinking from a youthful intelligentsia arising from accelerated, facilitated, unrestricted access to maximum education. 

As some practical examples do you think neurolinguistic programming will be on the priority list, but it might be one of the effective strategies that we need to create the right behavior changes. What about computer gaming? I just saw an interactive computer game able to be downloaded to any mobile phone produced by youth in Kenya that teaches young people conflict resolution skills and peace building.  

I believe in what CARE and NSDC are doing in which youth are given second chances in programmes that weave life skills into technical and vocational training programmes We must show all Saint Lucians with all levels of ability that there is higher education for each and every one of us. Every resident in this country must wake up every morning and ask themselves what I am going to do today that will further develop me in a positive way, what will I learn today?  Government policy needs to create the environment for public-private partnerships that encourage creation of jobs for young people in the private and public sector, but especially so in the private sector. There should be joint plans for youth entrepreneur support including business mentoring, access to loans, grant and equity funds that will allow youth businesses to be established and supported. We need to ensure that access to jobs and business support is clearly linked to education such that youth see their future unfolding in a system that recognizes and rewards ability and competence. 

The link between the new education paradigm and success must be clear and unequivocal, just as in contrast law enforcement and sanctions for unacceptable and criminal behaviour must be ensured.  At the very foundation I believe that literacy and numeracy are the bedrock of education and therefore development. It must be mandatory for every Saint Lucian to be functionally literate and competent in basic mathematics, no matter how old we are. Poor literacy and poor mathematics skills automatically deny many people a fruitful education. We must create a massive national movement now that engages every Saint Lucian in this process. Every Saint Lucian should be literate enough to pick up at least one of Derek Walcott’s books and genuinely appreciate his genius. We must all continue to develop our own skills in the process of lifelong learning as we must encourage and support our neighbors and our people to do the same. 

The schools cannot afford to allow a young person to leave school without the requisite English and Mathematics skills.  Productivity Enhancement Training programmes as presently promoted by the Saint Lucia social development fund (SSDF) in communities must become daily activities in every community and these programmes must expand to include literacy and numeracy skills development.  

Who will make this happen? Who will cause the new education paradigm? You will, I will and together we will. We cannot afford to wait for others we each need to start now. There is no more time to waste this is an emergency, call 911? The time to act is now. H.G Wells said in his book Outline of History in 1920 said “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe” I return to our Caribbean and one of our own philosopher’s Robert Nestor Marley who sang: Rise ye mighty people yeahThere’s work to be doneRise from your sleepless slumber….. Wake up and live.  

How will our mighty people rise; when we unlock the internal power of everyone through a knowledge rich, competent people who are steeped in the values of good character and citizenship; In other words a genuinely educated people. If through your efforts this happens then tomorrow when the warrior asks “How are the children?” The response will be “All the Children are well”.