THE release of CXC results last week has gotten St. Lucia thinking about the state of education in the country. Given that the results were not overly impressive, it has led most to the seemingly annual exercise of speculating on ways in which to improve the level of our education system.
The SALCC Board of Governors resignation saga has also added fuel to this now fiery debate as it has elicited from prominent figures in the political spectrum their own solutions to the education problem.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and Castries South MP Dr. Ernest Hilaire both gave their opinions on education this past week, representing two different camps of thought to which most St. Lucians belong.
On the one hand, Chastanet would like to see a change in the way we have thought about education over the last five or six decades, while Hilaire utilised past (classical) thinking on education to propose that St. Lucia should take it further in order to solve the issue.
What do I mean?
Last week Monday, I asked the Prime Minister about the situation with the Board of Governors at SALCC– and while he did tersely answer the question, he spent a significantly longer time musing on the running of SALCC and how potential changes could help improve standards.
As we reported last week Tuesday, Chastanet stated: “Right now, everybody has been running away from making a decision about Sir Arthur”, explaining that his argument was “Okay, you’re gonna ask for an increase in tuitions, what is it the kids are getting? Are they getting a better education? Is there better programming?”
He also said that “It is very generous on the part of the Government of St. Lucia to continue to give that level of allocation when by now they [SALCC] should be self-sufficient.”
Those words spoken by Chastanet evoked an impassioned response from Hilaire, whose own views on improving education levels can be found on the opposite end of the partisan political spectrum.
He criticised the Prime Minister for suggesting that schools (in particular) Sir Arthur, should be self sufficient and called an absurdity the fact that the PM called the Government’s subvention to Sir Arthur “generous.”
“Firstly, the Prime Minister is of the view that the Government is being generous to SALCC. This is an absurdity!” Hilaire proclaimed, his opposition stemmed in his belief that our way forward as a country regarding the education system is for government to provide even more for students and to eventually fund and provide tertiary level education for all.
“What is this about the Government being generous to SALCC?” Hilaire reiterated.
“Since Universal Secondary Education, it is accepted that the state has an obligation to provide education to all. We accept that at this stage that we cannot afford a full fledge university so we cannot yet provide accessible tertiary education for all. However, it must remain a medium to long term aspiration.” Hilaire expounded.
The PM however, as per his remarks, is of a different view in regards to uplifting the level of education in the country. He believes that an over-relianne on the government education sector has seen fiscal problems year-in year-out — and continues to under-achieve.
He also believes that Government simply adding more money to a very flawed system won’t resolve those issues and that a progressive weaning-off of the Government’s teets by SALCC could prove beneficial to the school and its students, providing better overall education at a more reasonable price.
“Should a person who is doing their first two years of a University Degree, pay the same $1500? If you have to go to the University of the West Indies it [costs] $22 000/$24 000,” Chastanet stated, explaining that the reality is that Universities on the whole are very expensive, given that most of them are not subsidised by Government and that as quoted before, by now they [SALCC] should be self-sufficient.”
Dr.Hilaire responded that he thinks the notion that Sir Arthur should be self-sufficient is ludicrous and against the “human right” of education for all.
“Secondly, the Prime Minister says that SALCC is not yet self-sufficient and that they should be.” Hilaire declared. “For SALCC to be sufficient, in the Prime Minister’s own calculation each student will have to pay $9000 each year! $9000! Can Saint Lucian children afford that? No. So it is for the Government to provide the balance.”
“Education is a right, not a privilege.” Hilaire added also recalling his “days as a student leader and youth leader when one of our main causes was to establish that education is a right, not a privilege.”
“It all depends on how you look at things”, the Prime Minister stated on Monday, comments which proved to be prescient in light of the response by Dr.Hilaire.
Chastanet continued: “Most people believe the tuition at Sir Arthur Lewis is $1,500. Right? It’s not. It’s $9,000 — of which government pays $7,500 and the student pays $1,500.”
In the above, he is stating the exact same thing and listing the exact same numbers as Dr.Hilaire, but as the PM rightly said, “It all depends on how you look at things.”
Whereas Dr.Hilaire looks at those numbers and sees Government’s obligation, the PM looks at them and asks for accountability.
“I think that Sir Arthur has found itself in a situation where it’s trying to accommodate too many people. And the question becomes should all the programmes that Sir Arthur Lewis offer, regardless of what they cost, should they all be $1500? Is that a reasonable number?” Chastanet stated Monday.
He also posed a rather interesting question, challenging the notion of Government subsidy obligation specifically to one tertiary educational institution: “Here’s another number I’ll throw out to you…the government of St. Lucia is only subsidising students that go to post-secondary school education [that] go to Sir Arthur.”
It was almost as if the PM was asking: Where do the subsidies end? For, if the ideology of mandated Government subsidies at the tertiary level is to remain consistent, then shouldn’t government also be required to subsidise students who attend any tertiary level institution in the country, as opposed to where things stand right now where Government subsidises only students who attend this lone institution?
Also in that challenge was the question (I surmise) that if it is so expensive to subsidise one tertiary level institution, would government — and by extension the taxpayer — be able to afford the subsidy of all tertiary level institutions in the country? After all, as the PM stated on Monday “numbers matter!”
While Dr.Hilaire did concede (as already quoted) that “We accept… at this stage that we cannot afford a full-fledged university so we cannot yet provide accessible tertiary education for all…” he also made it quite clear that “it must remain a medium to long term aspiration” once it becomes affordable for Government.
It is clear that both sides want the same thing: an improved education system. However, the quarrel almost completely stems from the disagreement in the manner in which this improvement will be brought about.
On the one side we have the Prime Minister, who wants to take a very pragmatic and numbers-oriented approach to resolving this issue, while on the othert hand, Dr.Hilaire’s proposed solution is based on the ideal of Universal Education.
One thing remains certain, though: This debate is far from over.