Brother Minister of Education, Ministers of Religion, distinguished overseas guests, delegates, sisters and brothers, comrades all.
It is for me a great honor and privilege to have to speak this morning at the start of this very historic conference.
This conference, of course, takes place at this time when momentous events are taking place in our country. It is part of a process, and part of an opportunity which we the people of our country and all the different sectors and sections and strata will have in the next few months of examining and looking anew at all aspects of our society. This gives us, of course, the opportunity for the first time in many years of looking inwards at our¬selves and our society.
As a colonial people up to a few years ago, it has been our practice to look outward, outward away from the needs of our country and the problems facing our people, and outward instead to the needs, to the problems, to the solutions that the metropolitan masters wish to impose on us.
In all areas of life, in all areas of our society, there are questions at which we must take a hard look.
In the area of economics; in the area of defining for ourselves for the first time a philosophy of who we are or where we are going; in the area of working out in our time and under our specific conditions what we would like to put into our new constitution; what sort of Public Service we would like to have; what standards of production and discipline; what standards of wages and working conditions we would like to have for our workers and our farmers; what values, what cultural traditions we would wish to develop for your youths and our students; what role you wish our church and missionary schools to play in our country; what role you would like our professionals to begin to shape for themselves; - these are but some of the questions that over the next few months we are going to have to take a fresh and hard look at, with a view in finding answers that have relevance to our new situation and our new dreams, our new aspirations, our new hopes for the future.
Several different types of experts, several different people from the Caribbean and the world in general, have come in to offer voluntary assistance with helping us to identify the major problems that we face, and helping us to shape solutions that would have meaning and relevance to the lives of our people.
We have of course in Grenada at this point, a Public Service Commission which is looking at the whole question of the organisation of the Public Services with a view to the creation of a career based on merit; with a view to developing ideas that would make the service more relevant to the type of Grenada we are trying to build.
We have also had this past weekend, as I’m sure you will recall, a very distinguished team; ‘The Caribbean Consultation Team’ headed by Professor Telford Georges, which is looking at five different key areas of the problems facing our country, with a view to identifying a number of immediate solutions.
During the past week, we have also had a team of ten experts from the University of the West Indies, who were examining specific areas, specific problems that we face, with a view to coming up with proposals or consideration by our people.
We have in addition of course, had various technical assistance and fact-finding teams and missions coming into Grenada and looking at particular sectors, looking at our programme for ‘Youth for Reconstruction,’ looking at our programme for the Centre for popular Education, looking at our programme for building the infrastructure in our country, looking at all of these very critical areas because of their recognition that the process which we have begun in Grenada, is a process that stands and will have meaning and relevance to the rest of the Caribbean, and therefore it is a process which they should assist.
Perhaps the worst crime that colonialism left our country, as indeed it left all former colonies, is the Education System.
This is so because the way in which that system developed, the way in which that system was used, was to teach our people an attitude of self-hate, to get them to abandon our history, our culture, our values; to get them to accept the principles of White Superiority; to destroy our confidence; to stifle our creativity; to perpetuate in our society class privilege and class difference.
The Colonial masters recognized very early on that if you get a subject people to think like them, the colonialists, and if those subjects are made to forget their own history and their own culture, and made to develop a system of Education that is going to have relevance to our internal, then they have already won the job of keeping us in perpetual domination and exploitation. Our educational process, therefore, was used mainly as a tool of the ruling elite.
In the days of slavery, of course, it was not necessary to even have education because slaves were not required to know how to read or write, nor were they required to think for themselves.
Indeed, they did not even have the rights to their own lives. Their sole function was to produce for the slave masters. The sole function of the women that were unable to otherwise work, was to produce more children that could be used as property to send out profits to the Metropolitan countries.
It was only, therefore, after the abolition of slavery, or rather just four years before the abolition, that anything was given at all to education in Grenada. And it was in fact in 1834, I believe, that what they called a Negro Education Grant, was set up to assist with the question of establishing the resources and the means of creating a certain form of education that ensured the continued exploitation of the Grenadian at that time.
The educational system was used in this way to encourage a number of myths, a number of illusions, a number of deep-seated fallacies. It was meant to create the belief that social mobility was the most important factor to be had from education.
It was meant to foster the illusion that the most important reason why anyone should receive education was so that he or she could acquire individual wealth. It helped to teach us most of the negative attitudes and values that today we still see in certain sectors of our society.
Attitudes of racist beliefs, racism, priorities, and chauvinist attitudes that make many of the men in our society look at the woman as being not an equal partner but as being a tool for personal use and enjoyment.
An attitude of narrow nationalism and of isolationism that has taught us to believe that each of us in each of the several Caribbean islands must always remain separate and apart, and our French, and Spanish, and Dutch speaking brothers and sisters have no relevance to those of us who live in the English speaking section of the Caribbean.
It has taught us to accept attitudes of authoritarian rule, and a hierarchical structure that says that the people do not have any rights to participate, do not have any rights to have their voices heard, that discourages political affairs and political activity of students, whom they compartmentalize.
At one time in your life you are deemed a student and during that period you are not supposed to be involved in any of the other affairs of the real world outside.
So the education process made us believe, that during the eighteen or nineteen years (for those who are able to get secondary education) that you are co-called ‘students’ that your only role is to study, and this study must be completely unrelated to what is happening in our society.
An attitude which they also continued to teach us, a hundred and forty something years after the abolition of slavery, is that our sole function was to continue to be producers of raw materials and raw goods for the former colonial masters.
These were some of the problems that we inherited. These were some of the myths that were created, these were some of the negative things that led us to believe that the proper education was really a process of acquiring a certificate, a process of certification, where when at the end of the day, you could wave the primary school leaving certificate or better yet, O’Levels certificate or better yet the Advanced Level or still better, the degree certificate that gave you an automatic and immediate entry into life.
And it was not important that you were not in any way prepared to enter that life – because while receiving these certificates and preparing to do so, while cramming the necessary books and learning everything by heart in order to pass the exam, we ourselves did not realise that in the process we were being paralyzed instead of being taught creatively.
Sisters and brothers, we inherited very many problems on the thirteenth (13th) of March. Perhaps the most fundamental problem of all is the one that many people like to pretend does not exist, and that is the problem of illiteracy.
People like to wave around certain facts and figures, and glorify it by the name of statistics. They say that in Grenada the percentage of illiteracy is very small.
But what they mean by that is that most people or perhaps many people are able to sign their names, and the process of being able to scratch a signature on a piece of paper is deemed literacy and therefore they say there is no problem of illiteracy.
But the reality that infact confronts us, is that the vast majority of our people are still unable to read or to write in a functional manner; are still unable to take a newspaper and to appreciate what is written on that paper; are still unable to listen to a radio broadcast and to discern in an intelligent, in an inquiring, in a serious way what is being said; because they have not been given the opportunity of such development.
And one of the most crying shames of the recent history of our country is the fact that no one is yet able to assess how many thousands of geniuses might have been uncovered, might have been discovered, might have come forth and flowered if they had had the opportunity of receiving some form of further education.
One of the major problems of a society such as ours, a society that is ruled by an elite, a society that is divided along class lines, a society where the major motivational factor is profit, is that very few people care whether the agricultural worker, or the fisherman, or the road worker, or the mason, or very often even the civil servants can read or write.
That is not an important question, because as they see it, in order to make more dollar bills, what is important is not what you have in your head but what you have in your arms. Once you have the physical strength to turn the work out, once you are able to turn the machine or to dig with the fork or the cutlass, or to cut with the cutlass or whatever, that is what is important.
Therefore what our society has encouraged is division between those who have certain mental and intellectual skills - those deemed the elite, those deemed the important people in our society - and the vast majority of people, the ones who are infact the most important because they are the ones who are producing - because no amount of reading and writing and passing exams for certificates can help us produce the cocoa, or nutmeg, or bananas that our country relies on in order to produce the wealth that we have.
And yet, precisely the people that are most responsible for developing our country, for creating the wealth that we have, are precisely the ones that are most frowned upon, the ones that are most regarded as being useless, the ones that are taught to most hate themselves, the ones that can never fully develop their personality, because they do not even have the most basic requirements that any human being should have to acquire further information and knowledge.
The right to read, the right to write, the right to be able to communicate in a serious way with one's fellow human beings, the right to receive all the information that mankind has gathered over the past several thousand years, the right to understand one's history, the right to think about one's future, all these freedoms are denied.
They might say you have the freedom to speak or the freedom to read, but what is the point of having the freedom to read and our country at the same time can pass a law that bans the right to certain types of books and magazines to come into our country?
What is the point of saying there is freedom to speak when in our country at the same time three and a half months ago the right to in fact communicate was prohibited?
What is the point of talking about the freedom to develop when what in fact was being encouraged was backwardness, was superstition, the perpetuating of a feeling that only a small elite can rule; that the only purpose of education was to ac¬quire individual wealth?
To become wealthy was the same as to become famous. And to be wealthy was supposed to mean that you were educated, when the reality is and was in our country that very many of the most wealthy people do not themselves even have the certificates and therefore, even in the traditional sense have not acquired the education.
This clearly shows that the co-relation between the acquiring of money and the acquiring of certificates is a very weak and uncertain one. But yet, people have encouraged this idea that once you are able to grab that certificate, it means that everything else would flow.
The second major problem has been the question of the very serious failure rate in our schools.
Of those going primary school leaving exams in 1978 – of the nine hundred and sixty-eight (968) persons who sat the exam, only twenty-eight (28) persons passed. Twenty-eight (28) of nine hundred sixty-eight(968).
At the secondary school level, of all the people, of all the youths and students in our country who go through the school system, only ten to fourteen percent (10-14%) ever get the opportunity of entering secondary school. The rest are condemned to primary education.
When you look at the results of O’Levels, of the one hundred and ninety-four (194) students who took the exam last year, only twenty-four (24) got four (4) or more O’Levels. All the rest either failed or picked up one or two.
Between 1970 and 1979, in other words, over the last nine (9) years, only twenty percent (20%) of all students who came out of our school system were able to find jobs.
In other words, eighty (80) out of every hundred (100) children who came out of school were unable to find a job, and therefore all the knowledge acquired, all the Latin and what not that was picked up was very senseless, because they were not able to put it to any kind of use.
The physical condition of our schools is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance. Of the sixty-two (62) primary schools in Grenada, twelve (12) are totally dilapidated.
Children need to go to school with umbrellas because if the rain falls they would not be able to sit inside. Twenty-five (25) more of them need complete refurbishing and every single one of them is in desperate need of repairs of some sort.
Infact there are only five (5) schools in the entire country that the recent survey has passed as being acceptable or desirable – five (5) schools in the entire country. All out our schools, or the vast majority of them anyway, are desperately overcrowded.
Recently I walked into a school that my son attends, the school that is popularly called ‘Hindsey School’, and there are no partitions in the school or virtually none, so everybody is hearing what the next class is talking about.
The overcrowding is so unbelievable that when you walk in you do not believe that you are in a centre of learning, but you believe instead that your are in a child-minding building.
It is not really possible to imagine how children can effectively learn in conditions like these.
The furniture is of course another story. Toilets and sanitary facilities are again virtually not existing in the vast majority of schools. No teaching aid equipment is available so that teachers have to rely on the written, or spoken words.
Our pre-primary situation is unfortunately no better. Virtually every single pre-primary school in our country is in need of repair.
The secondary schools, a fair number of them, are also in pretty urgent need of repairs.
It is serious too when we come to the situation of the teacher. That of course is the most single important ingredient in any school the teachers because in the final analysis, even if you do not have books, or exercises to write on, but you have a serious and commit¬ted teacher, you can still learn.
That is the history of those people who have been fighting their national liberation struggles in Angola and Guinea Bissau and Mozambique and other countries around the world. That is the history which proves that you do not always need a classroom to develop the consciousness, to raise the educational and qualificational standards of your people. It is sufficient if you have committed people who are teaching them.
But yet we find that of our teachers at the primary level less than one-third (1/3), in fact only thirty (30) percent, have received any form of professional training at all.
At the secondary level the picture is even worse; it is something like seven (7) percent of all the teachers who have received some form of professional training, and at the pre primary level the vast majority have infact received no form of professional training.
And therefore, with these problems it means, sisters and brothers, that the solutions we are going to have to propose, the solutions you are going to have to look at over the next few weeks, are going to have to be radical solutions; are going to have to be solutions that are far reaching; are going to have to be solutions that will deal with the real problems that we have in our country and not the problems we would like to imagine exist, but with the real problems that in fact face us.
The structural problems affecting education and affecting every other sector in our society are of course also very deep seated problems. I refer here of course to the poverty of our country, to the high transportation cost, to the poor health facilities, to the lack of jobs, to the lack of meals for school children at lunch time, to the inadequate housing that children must live in, to the poor water facilities that are available.
But what these structural problems should remind us and what it should teach us is that, in order for us to move forward, we will always have to remember that there are very serious problems that we face in our country, problems which we could only solve if people and government together come up with creative solutions - solutions that are not initially going to require a great deal of capital expenditure.
It is easy for any government, it certainly will be easy for the People's Revolutionary Government, to proclaim the principle of free education for all. And this we are of course very happy to do.
But it is one thing to say ‘free education’, it is another thing to say how are we going to pay for that free education. Where is the money going to come from? Where are the resources going to come from that we are certainly going to need to run schools, train teachers better, provide a more relevant form of education, and all free of cost?
What I think that points to, is that one of the very important lessons that we are going to have to draw, and one of the very important things that we are going to have to embark on as we try to open up the school system to the economically poor and underprivileged in our society, is that we are going to have to learn the lesson that we will have to take our schools to the people.
We are going to depend to some extent on a system of volunteers who will be willing to go out into the countryside, where the most serious and endemic problems of illiteracy exist, and try to train our people.
All of us are going to have to strive to become teachers on-the-job and off-the-job. All of us are going to have to try to get down to the important task of raising the literacy standard, providing all our people with the basic opportunity of being at least able to read and to write.
This is going to involve a massive task of voluntary work by those who are sufficiently fortunate to have the skills, to have the ability to communicate what we know, who have been able to receive some form of education and, therefore, are able to pass on what we have learned to those who are themselves unable to acquire any such knowledge.
Secondly, it seems to me that we are going to have to move very quickly to destroy the artificial class divisions of our people into absurd and illogical compartments. We are going to try to get away from the idea of people who are students full time. And we are going to have to move more and more to the idea of getting everybody in our country to regard themselves as both students and workers. From the time you start school till the day you die.
Right now, the average young man or woman leaves school and she/he says, “thank God for that: that is the end of that. No more books. The next time I open a book I don’t know why."
Or they might well say, “well, only comic books from now on,” or they might just want to go to the cinema and watch the karate films or such things, because now they have moved one step up and have become a new person in a false class – in that sense, that is called a “worker” whose only function now is to go out and do the necessary manual labour to make the necessary money.
The job of continuing to educate themselves becomes no longer an important job. Because our society has perpetuated this false distinction it is going to be vital for us to break out of that habit to get our young students, even while they are in school and while they are growing up, to inculcate the practice and the art and the habits of doing work so that they can begin to produce even while they are in school.
So that by the time they come out and they face the real life, their education would become a meaningful education that has prepared them for the real world and the real life.
They can leave school knowing that even while in school they have sweated on days, they had forked the land, they had learned to prune the cocoa tree, they had learned to cut the cocoa, they had learned about sugarcane, they had learned about nutmegs and cocoa and bananas and what not.
This is going to be of the most fundamental importance, and it is going to be important, sisters and brothers for two main reasons.
First, because obviously it must be important to integrate theory and production. It must be important for us to develop an attitude that says – the work of the mind and the work of he hands must be joined.
It must be important for us to begin to test theory against reality, for us to begin to test what we learned in the books about agriculture, against practically how infact to grow a tree. How does that tree get big? What happens when it starts to develop certain forms of diseases? How can one cure that.
What can be more ridiculous than the fact that it is possible in 1979 in Grenada for the vast, vast majority of the students who leave secondary schools in a country that is said to be primarily agricultural, in a country that produces the richest cocoa in the world, that is the second largest producer of nutmeg in the world – for a child to leave secondary school with a certificate in Latin and French and has never seen a cocoa tree in his life – or has never climbed one or cut a pod or does not know what manure is made up of, or does not know what the different types of cocoa are, does not know the importance of cocoa and nutmegs and bananas to our existence in our country, to the wealth that we produce; to the society that we are going to have to build?
But such a person leaves school with a nice certificate in his hand and make an application to the Public Service Commission, only to be told that there are no more vacancies, so that they have to go on the roads and lime [hang out].
How more sensible it would have been for that same student, at an early stage to have been integrated into the real situation of our country; into a recognition that what is important for our national development is precisely fishery, is precisely agro-industrialisation, is precisely agriculture, is precisely the development of the new form of tourism we are talking about.
So that while they are in school they are learning about those things that are going to have relevance to them when they come out of school.
How much more important and useful it would have been if that child could have received instead, that kind of orientation.
But there is a second reason why we have to begin to develop this work-study programme, and that is because on the one hand everybody proclaims the principle of the right of students of free education.
Everybody agrees that the maximum number of students you can teach, the better. That if we can set up sufficient schools to ensure that every child in our country receives an education, that must be the best thing.
But on the other hand, everybody recognises that there is not a single, poor, under-developed third world country existing, that can find the resources and the money to provide this free education given the poverty, given the degree of exploitation, given the continued imperialist domination of our societies and economies.
And therefore, if we are going to begin to educate more of our people in a serious way, it means that those people who are receiving that education must even at the same time as they are being educated, contribute to the cost of that education.
This is one of the essential reasons, one of the most logical reasons why we must also more in to this principle of working and studying at the same time. So that from the age that a child enters school, that child is at the same time making a contribution to the cost of his education which we would like to make free.
If they were to produce some tomatoes and come lettuce; were able to learn some skills that would have relevance when they come out of school, so much better.
The old question raised by Sir Paul [Scoon] also – the question of Relevant Curriculum – is of course a key question. Because the present curriculum in most parts in aimed at creating an elite, and an elite moreover that cannot be accommodated in our present structure.
The very figures speak for themselves. As I said, over nine years, 1970 to now, only twenty percent (20%) of those coming out of the system were able to find jobs. What does that tell us?
It must tell us that infact, the kind of thing that they came out with – the certificate, has not prepared them for dealing with the real world; for dealing with the real situation in our country; but has instead created a deformed personality – a personality who felt that his or her entitlement was to something much better than working under a cocoa tree.
Because it was being said that to work on the land is like slavery, and to work on the land is degrading and dehumanizing. And it was being said that instead of having people getting wet under the cocoa tree, all of them could come in town, put on a tie and go in the civil service.
And with that sort of parasitic thinking, with that sort of deformed policy, naturally the results were the creation of deformed individuals who could not fit into the real Grenada they were coming out to face.
And therefore, the whole question of the curriculum is going to be a key one. A curriculum that is geared to developing a new philosophy, that is going to stress the important question of self reliance, the important question of genuine independence; that is going to look at us as we infact are; a small, poor, overexploited colonial third world country; and what that means in practice for our future.
That is going to try to begin to raise national consciousness; that is going to stress the importance of national unity; that will stress the importance of developing an approach, an attitude that says on the one hand - all of us must work harder, all of us must produce more. But says on the other hand - when we work harder and when we produce more the benefits of that production and that sort of work must come back to all of us collectively.
That sort of thinking we are going to have to develop. A participatory democracy that seeks to involve all of our people: workers, farmers, fishermen, youths, students, women; all of them on a regular on-going basis in making decisions and coming up with solutions for the problems that we have identified as being the real problems that are holding us back.
To develop that sort of approach requires the creation of a new philosophy, a new thinking which must be reflected in the curriculum that we are going to have to develop.
The needs of our country in the area of food, to cut down on the massive import bill; in the area of primary health care, so as to deal with the reality that there are only two hospitals in Grenada and therefore to the extent that we can get more and more people out there in the countryside to look after the sick and the aged must be the better way for us at this point to tackle this problem.
We must look too at the question of industries – the question of turning cocoa and nutmegs and bananas into refined products so that we no longer have to spend to buy our own cocoa that comes down to use in tins.
All of these areas are going to be key areas.
The question of the appropriate forms of technology that we are going to use to develop our country, all of these problems are problems which our society must look at, which the curriculum that hopefully over the next few months you will begin to draft an outline of, that the curriculum has relevance to these problems and therefore can assist us; that the educational process can then become a tool for our liberation, our development, for us to make social progress it cannot continue as it now is, as a tool to alienate people, to frustrate them, to dehumanize them.
And the only way in which we can do that is if we infact begin a very serious and indepth process of thinking about the many problems that we face.
So to summarize, sisters and brothers, we must move to wipe out illiteracy, we must move to develop a system of work and study in the schools. We must move to make all of us who are capable of being such teachers, develop the concepts of taking education into the countryside on a voluntary basis to those of our unfortunate sisters and brothers who are not even able to come to the town to get that education.
We must use the educational system and process as a means of preparing the new man for the new life in the new society we are trying to build. We must begin to think seriously about these problems. We must begin to identify solutions and having identified those solutions we must then move to carry them out in a serious and systematic way.
And so I hope that over the next month your deliberations will be fruitful, the work of your conference will be successful. I hope that you will come up with proposals that will have meaning to the lives of our people, that will have relevance to the needs of our country, because the success of our revolution depends on your efforts. I congratulate the organizers of this conference and I ask you to spend a serious month of discussions and come up with serious answers.
Thank you very much.