EDITORIAL: Hitchhiking our way to prosperity

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You may remember some time ago that we wrote a piece entitled “An education revolution.”  In it, we joined the call for a revolution in our education system.  Our support was backed by a firm belief that our greatest natural resources are our human resources.  And for those of you who may have missed our chant, we also believe that there is no reason that the “next big thing” could not come from the fertile mind of an Antiguan or Barbudan.
Education is our future.  As the world evolves, the most educated societies will rise to the top.  Small island states, such as ours, need to ensure that we realise this, otherwise the world will pass us by and we
will be nothing more than cheap labour or service workers. 
If you are rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself, “not this again,” then you need to stop and have a look around you to see where wealth and opportunity are being created around the world.  Sure, seeking foreign investment in hotels and the like are good, but the jobs that they produce are not ones that will elevate us to the next level – a level where we help to determine our future, rather than sticking out our thumbs hoping to hitchhike our way to prosperity.
Yes, we are going to beat this drum to eternity (if we have to).  We are not oblivious to the fact that we sound like a stuck record, but as we said before, we will continue in the hope that somebody will listen, or at the very least, “the squeaky wheel will get some oil.”
We seem to be either stuck in a rut or simply content to let the ‘status quo’ continue.  We understand that no one likes change and sticking with what you know is ‘comfortable’ but holding firm to that mind-set only leads to a very uncomfortable future.
We have been spurred to talk on this topic again because of the wise words of the head of the University of the West Indies (UWI) School of Education, Professor Stafford Griffith with support from Assistant Principal at New York State Department of Education, Dr. Cherry-Ann Hislop.  The professor suggested that the education system in the region needs to be better aligned to cater for the competencies that are required of graduates in today’s world.
One would think that the concept of aligning education to real world requirements would be logical and part of the constant re-evaluation of our education system, but the evidence before us is that it is not.  We continue to focus our education system on what are referred to as “critical foundation skills” while ignoring, for the large part, the development of skills necessary for the changing demands of the economy, both local and global.
Professor Griffith summed up the situation quite well with this observation: “I am taken aback sometimes with the kind of mismatch over the years between the kind of competencies that we are developing in our students at school, and the kind of opportunities which are available to them.”  According to the professor, this needs to be addressed in order to prevent a situation where highly trained, highly skilled people are emerging from our education system, but are unable to find their niche in the job market.
Dr. Hislop added to the observation by pointing out that there needs to be greater forethought.  She opined that the governments of the region need to ensure that the skills being studied by the students address the needs of the country in the next 10 to 15 years, saying, “ … make sure that whatever profession you need to move the economy forward is being studied by the nationals of that country.”
These are wise words from professional educators and they should be heeded.  Our society cannot wait and hope that we survive the new global economy based on tourism only.  We must peer into the future and determine a path for our nation and ask ourselves, “are we content to continue to put all of our eggs in one basket with tourism as our major economic driver or do we want a nation of entrepreneurs who will be the shepherds of our economic powerhouse?”
To give you some idea of what this new economy looks like, let’s take a look at a couple of teenage entrepreneurs who have used their fertile minds and imaginative ideas to achieve success at a young age.  First up is Robert Nay.  While it is said that Nay is a bit of a prodigy, at the young age of 14, he had no programming experience.  He taught himself to write code and launched an app/game called Bubble Ball.  In a short two weeks, the game was downloaded more than a million times from Apple and eventually dethroned the wildly successful Angry Birds as the most downloaded game.  Over a single two-week period, Nay earned nearly two million dollars in income from Bubble Ball.
Another self-taught programmer is a young man named Nick D’Aloisio.  He used a copy of C for Dummies and watched how-to videos on the Internet to get started.  He launched his first app when he was just 12 and kept developing apps as time permitted, usually over summer breaks from school.  At 15, Nick developed and launched Trimit – an app to condense lengthy articles into summaries.  He caught the eye of a Hong Kong billionaire who saw the potential and invested US $300,000 to help Nick perfect his app.  The end result?  Triimit is now Summly, after Nick and his investor sold the app to Yahoo! for a cool $30 million. 
Imagine what these young people could have achieved if programming had been part of their standard education?  Further, imagine what our kids can achieve if they are exposed to more than “critical foundation skills”?  Tourism has served us well, and we should never damn the bridge upon which we cross, but we need to diversify.  We need to rely more on ourselves for our future and that future requires an education revolution in order to be successful.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.
 

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