A unified and educated society was the founding intuition of our post-independence education system. Eric Williams then set about to enact his operational intuition by building out an education estate that we inhabit to this day, alongside the built environment of a system of faith based schools. Having outlined his priorities, he assembled a cascading set of goals which were well-ordered by capital constraints. However, the state in its haste to industrialize the economy did not ensure that rustic schools were as excellent as urban livewires. Measurable goals with objectively verifiable indicators that flagged institutions failing to advance its scholars resulted in inequity. One consequence was that being sent to a particular school type was perceived to be a punishment. Especially schools that offer academic qualifications in vocational studies that reinforce the social class hierarchy.

On 23rd January, 2020, President’s Medal Awardees for CAPE were decorated by Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, ORTT. At the ceremony, the scholars had the rare opportunity to appreciate how a President could puncture the horizon. Her Excellency remarked that one day soon she hoped to be presenting a President’s Medal for Advanced Level Qualifications in Technical and Vocational areas of study. She said that our scholarship winners were expected to set out on predictable career paths. “Where I ask within the academic landscape is success recognised and celebrated for the budding mechanic, the electrician, (and) the designer?” She pointed out, “that those who show early interest and promise in these subject areas, should be nurtured with the same focus and intensity as their counterparts whose interest and abilities lie in physics, maths and literature.”

The requirement to address skills shortages to figure industries and those needed to futureproof a workforce overflowing with disruptive-skills is elementary. Liberation theology and its relevance in economically advanced and poor or emerging societies creates critical consciousness. It provides the capacities needed for participation in destiny. Education that propagates a ‘culture of silence’ avoids change, power sharing and every threat to the prevailing cultural elite. In 2019, eight boys in Barbados scored a raw score of zero in Mathematics at the 11+. Prime Minister Mia Mottley intends to eradicate the selection mechanism completely.

She proclaimed that, “Every Bajan must know what excellence looks like, what excellence feels like, what excellence tastes like and whether it is a car washer or a permanent secretary, or whether it is a waiter or minister, whether it is a nurse, whether it is a lawyer, from whatever station, a bank teller, that we must all know what constitutes excellence.” To provide a platform for youth to meaningfully participate in destiny, the UK also plans to enact a new type of A- Level qualification in September 2020: the T-Levels. T-Levels were developed by Panels of employers and providers with support from DfE. Eligible providers will benefit from funding for equipment and facilities upgrades. They will also be able to access training for faculty and staff in administrative positions.

T-Levels will be equivalent to 3 A Levels and provide several progression options including skilled employment, apprenticeships and access to higher education. A T-Level Distinction* will be equivalent to 168 UCAS tariff points or an A-Level A*A*A*. The T-Level certificate will include: an overall grade shown as a pass, merit, distinction or distinction*, a separate grade for the core component, using A* to E, and a separate grade for each occupational specialism, shown as pass, merit or distinction. It will also include confirmation that the student has met the minimum requirements for Mathematics and English qualifications, completed the industry placement and met any additional mandatory requirements. The industry placement lasts 45 days or 315 hours. The total time for a T-Level is around 1,800 hours over 2 years including the placement. This differs from an apprenticeship, which is typically 80% OJT and 20% in the lecture theatre. Alternatively, T-Level students will spend 80% of the course in classrooms, and 20% at fabulous firms like Facebook.

Ofqual, which oversees UK qualifications stated that there are currently more than 12,000 vocational qualifications at all levels, offered by more than 150 awarding bodies in the UK. Some courses are pursued by a few students and others by none. There are also many different qualifications to choose from for certain skills, with more than thirty for plumbing alone. The Department for Education intends to stop funding about 40% of these qualifications as it introduces T-levels. But some organisations are questioning why a large number of vocational courses will no longer be funded when there has been no major review of the more than 50,000 university degree programmes in the UK and no attempt to articulate the sector.

A constraining factor for CARICOM states to even begin to consider such a bold move is the failure to diversify the economies of member states and so create industry clusters that have sufficient regulation, capacity and activity that will allow for T-Level industry placements. There is no fashion industry or maritime and aviation industry, and while there may be claims to a petroleum industry, over time diploma and degree internships and apprenticeships have dwindled.