Building economic power around Scientific, Technical, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) employment and education programmes is one way for Barbados to advance economically and socially.
This was the focus of a four-day consultancy hosted recently by the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development as part of its Human Resource Development Strategy.
The consultancy comprised over 100 representatives from various public and private sector departments, as well as educational institutions.
Attendees were invited to fill out questionnaires and share their views on the benefits and challenges of developing a STEM education programme.
Facilitator, Professor Cardinal Warde, who is also the President of the Caribbean Diaspora for Science, Technology and Innovation, was of the view that if Barbados did not embrace STEM education, it would be quickly left behind.
“We would just be buyers and consumers of technology. We would have nothing to sell. Even our financial services may get into trouble because as time changes, the technology changes and tools used in financial services today are probably going to be obsolete 10 years from now, so we must remain focused on STEM,” he insisted.
Professor Warde said that it was not the first time that STEM had been discussed at that level in Barbados, and he placed emphasis on implementation, because, in his opinion, “that’s where we fall short all the time in the Caribbean”.
“We speak eloquently about what the problems are and what we should do to solve the problem, but no one says who ‘we’ are. Who’s going to take responsibility for this? A lot of fingers get pointed at Government but the Ministers need very often to be advised what to do,” he pointed out.
Mr. Warde also suggested that at a Governmental level, there should be a scientific advisory body to assist the Cabinet, giving an example of the United States having such a body to advise the President.
At the educational level, the Professor maintained that there should be a restructuring of both the primary and tertiary education systems to focus more on STEM.
“I know that Barbadians pride ourselves that we have this great educational system. But if we have such a great educational system, why are we in trouble financially? Something is wrong… Just because every labourer in the field can read and write, that’s not sufficient to drive the economy. But, that’s what we boast about,” he lamented.
The information gathered from the consultation will form a blueprint action plan to promote STEM education, innovation and employment in Barbados and presented to the Ministry.
The Human Resource Development Strategy is being supported through grants from the European Union and technical assistance and loans from the Caribbean Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.