The quality of human resources has a strong influence on the ability of societies, enterprises and governments to properly identify and analyse problems, to realistically and imaginatively envisage the future and to craft plans for achieving goals and objectives.
The ingredients of high quality human resources are expert knowledge and skills, capacity for knowledge acquisition, analytical capacity, ability to communicate and creative adaptive responsibilities. All of these are necessary in the evolving socio-economic development situation of Caribbean countries. All impinge upon the ability of the Caribbean to remain internationally competitive or to develop new areas of competitiveness and to operate within the highl risk milieu of private capital markets and the shifting realities of international geo-politics. Progress in regional integration itself requires a stronger human resource base than currently exists.
In addressing the issue of “Quality Education and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in an increasingly Competitive and Rapidly Changing Global Environment”, Dr. Compton Bourne, O.E. , President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) notes that it is through education and training that human beings acquire knowledge and enterprise skills, develop their mental capacities and analytical skills, refine and extend their communications skills and gain valuable skills in socialization. “It should be evident, therefore, that the test of quality education is how appropriate are the curricula of educational institutions, how adequately capitalized they are in terms of library resources, capital stock and equipment, how modern is their educational technology. How good are their academic instructors, and how high are the academic standards that they set.” He pointed out.
Financial constraints and relative scarcity of academic personnel make the pursuit of high quality education and training very difficult especially in smaller Caribbean countries. However, according to Dr. Bourne, this should not be shirked and he warned that it is not expendable for countries wishing to do well in the global community of nations. Integration, he explains provides a way of reconciling constraints of budget and small size in the production of quality education. It provides a framework for rationalization of providers of education services through deliberate policies of avoiding duplication and fragmentation, encouraging complementary curricula, enabling geographical mobility of students and creating or mainstreaming regional education and training institutions. Even at the national level, similar possibilities should be pursued.
One of the consequences of globalization is the international opening up of the tertiary education sector in the Caribbean and the growing number of a somewhat “variegated” range of education providers. Some are offshoots or “virtual” branches of non-regional universities, some are local institutions in partnership with overseas universities and colleges, and some are stand-alone locally created entities. Several of the entities are highly reputable and there is assurance about the quality of their offerings.
“In some cases, however, there is room for doubts about education quality. In this evolving context of higher education there is a clear need for a quality assurance mechanism such as the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago and the similar body in Jamaica. The work of such entities is vital to ensuring quality education which is instrumental to the social and economic progress of the Caribbean.” Dr. Bourne said.
However, he advised that valuable as they are proving to be, the role of the accreditation bodies could be further strengthened. First, the accreditation bodies have national mandates usually restricted to the tertiary sector. Other components of the education sector are typically excluded from their purview. However, as Dr. Bourne points out the quality of the products of the primary and secondary components, as well as that of post-secondary but non-tertiary institutions must be of interest to the bodies responsible for tertiary accreditation. The reason is simple, namely that the quality of graduate output from the other parts of the system fundamentally determines the quality of student inputs into the tertiary system. If the quality of the input is poor, tertiary institutions would experience great difficulty in transforming those inputs into high quality tertiary level graduates. “Despite the constraints placed by their mandates, the tertiary level accreditation bodies must find a way to interface with the other components of the education and training system so as to improve the quality of education and training in the system as a whole” he advised.
Second, the accreditation entities should similarly interface with those university-level institutions whose existence pre-dates the establishment of national accreditation councils by many decades. The councils have a unique purview that spans many and quite varied education and training providers which allows it to have a good appreciation of strengths and weaknesses in the tertiary sector. Furthermore, the universities are expanding their programme offerings into areas at levels of the non-university tertiary sub-sector, through options such as numerous under graduate and certificate courses and the myriad non-academic offerings of their schools of continuing studies and life-long learning. The long established international peer review system for maintenance of academic standards among universities is not applied and indeed can hardly be applied, to the expanded range of offerings. This means that there is a quality assurance gap to be filled with respect to the non-traditional curricula of universities. This implies a possible, valuable role for the national accreditation bodies. Dr. Bourne suggests that at the very least there should be dialogue on this matter.
Third, consideration should be given to effectively networking the national accreditation entities into de facto or de juris regional bodies. It is highly desirable that there be uniformity of standards and commonality of approaches across the Caribbean. Otherwise, non-uniformity in quality of education and training will be a serious impediment to the regional integration of regional markets. According to Dr. Bourne, employers would not find it too costly to acquire information that allows them to effectively compare the education and training of labour originating from different countries and no less costly if they erred in their assessment of labour quality without such information. These costs would work against cross-border recruitment and employment of labour. Non-uniformity of education and training standards would also mitigate against efforts of expanding the export of services to the rest of the world for similar reasons of information costs and implicit costs of recruitment errors.
The Caribbean at a Glance
Despite their small size, Caribbean countries are not among the worst off in the world in terms of economic and social conditions. Indeed, most of them are classified in the middle income or upper middle income categories on the basis of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Taking 2005 as an example, the per capita GDP (purchasing power parity) of high Human Development (HD) countries was US$23, 986. For medium HD countries it was US$4,876 and for low HD countries it was US$1,112.
The United Nations does not list the British dependencies in its HD Index but of the 12 Caribbean countries listed, six were in the high middle HD group with per capita incomes between US$12,500 (Antigua and Barbuda) and US$18,380 (the Bahamas). Trinidad and Tobago’s per capita GDP was US$14,603. Seven countries were in the middle HD group with per capita GDP between US$4,291 and US$7,843. Caribbean countries are not among those listed as low HD. The unlisted British dependencies would all be in the high per capita GDP group if they were listed.
Furthermore, the annual growth rates of GDP per capita of Caribbean countries, while not spectacular, are certainly respectable. Between 1990 and 2005, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual growth rate averaged 4.3%. Four other countries averaged between 2.3% and 3.2%. Another three countries were between 1.3% and 1.6%. Only three countries fell below 1%. Growth rates in the British dependencies exceeded Trinidad and Tobago’s. Compare the Caribbean’s performance with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average growth rate of 1.8% and the medium HD group of 85 countries whose average growth rate was 4% and the low HD group with 0.6% and it immediately becomes obvious that the economic fortunes of the Caribbean have not been dismal.
Nonetheless, there should not be full satisfaction with the current development situation. Poverty levels remain unacceptably high in almost all the Caribbean countries. Ten of the fifteen countries have more than 20% of their populations living below the poverty line; four countries have 10-19% below poverty line; and one country has 9% below poverty line. Other social indicators such as the percentage of the population with access to piped water and improved sanitation and electricity, indicate room for improvement. Furthermore, the Caribbean economies are highly vulnerable to external economic shocks which can on occasions precipitate downturns in economic activity. The Caribbean countries are also vulnerable to natural disasters which can cause major social and economic damage.
Allison S. Ali
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