Around OBSERVER media, we have a strong belief that the next big thing could come from the mind of an Antiguan or Barbudan. It is one of the reasons why we believe that education is the most important investment that we can make. Sadly, our education system is not where it should be and our priorities seem to be in other places.
Government administrations, for some reason, believe that foreign direct investment is the way forward and continue to put all of our eggs in the foreign-dominated tourism basket. They speak of jobs created but fail to look at the larger picture and realise that the jobs that are touted as success are generally at the bottom of the totem pole. Sure, not everyone will be a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg but the potential is there if we focus our attention on cultivating minds that see beyond our sandy shores.
The topic of bright minds and their potential for change came to the fore when a good-news story about two young Antiguans studying abroad came across our desks. In case you missed it, the story highlighted Nicholas Saoud and Zion Michael and their participation in Formula SAE, a student design competition organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers International. The objective of the competition, which dates back to 1980, is to design and build a small Formula-style racecar according to a given set of rules and regulations. Engineering departments put forth the best-of-the-best to compete with teams from around the world and within that exclusive bunch were two bright Antiguans.
That is right, two graduates of St. Anthony’s Secondary School in Langford’s are competing in elite-level engineering events under the eyes of recruiters from the biggest names in technology. Companies like Ford, General Motors, Space X, Blue Origin, Formula 1, and Honda are all on the lookout for top talent and our kids fall into that category. We can only image the immense pride their family and teachers must be feeling because when we think of their accomplishments at such a young age, we can feel the goosebumps rise.
It is at times like this that we know that we are right – that our people can compete at the highest levels if given the chance. If given the right support at home and at school, our kids can deliver greatness, and that greatness can deliver an economic boom for our bit of paradise.
This all comes down to opportunity. That large, catch-all word, refers to a broad category of things that contribute towards success, but at the heart of it is education. We are not referring to the rush to mediocrity that we have employed in our current school system, but rather a system that acknowledges every child has unlimited potential and finds ways to nurture those fertile minds. We know that we will be criticised for ‘pie in the sky’ thinking but we know that that criticism will only come from those who have no vision.
The plan for our country’s education system should not be fueled by politics and grandstanding but rather by a clear vision for the future and the need for us to get the basics right. If we do not set the foundation, the house will not stand. A look back at the 2017 National Assessment results shows 59 percent scored 50 percent and above in Mathematics. That statistic alone demonstrates how we try to spin the results to make things look better than they are. We do not have a greater breakdown of the results at hand but in the wider world, anything below 70 percent is graded as a “D” and anything below 60 percent is graded as a FAIL.
Where do we expect our children to go in life if a good percentage of them will carry a “D” going into high school? As we said before, not everyone will be in the ‘elite’ category but everyone should have a sound understanding of basic math after attending primary school. While it is easy to point fingers at the government and teachers, much of a child’s success depends on what happens at home. It rests on the shoulders of parents and the support system that students have away from school, so the grand plan has to include a change of mindset in our society in general.
None of this will be easy, but the first step is acknowledging that something needs to be done. If we continue to allow mediocrity to reign, then any dream of becoming an economic powerhouse is simply that … a dream. Nicholas and Zion are just two of many shining stars but they lend support to our belief that the next big thing could come from the mind of an Antiguan and Barbudan.
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