I had the honour a week ago to participate in an important dialogue about how we prepare our students for life. The discussion centred around the questions: “Preparing learners to be leaders: What is required? How do we transform the system to better prepare our learners to be leaders in this territory and the world?” As a teacher’s kid, I know first-hand the labour of love that educators perform daily, and I salute them for their passion to see our children succeed despite circumstances. Here are some of my thoughts that I shared that I hope prompts a community-wide conversation and a shift in our mindsets as to how we approach investing in the future of these Virgin Islands.

I’ll start by saying all is not loss. I am a product of the public school system and I feel I was equipped to be successful in life based on my education experience up to the high school level. The “system” has never been perfect, but the evidence is there that it produced responsible citizens that are contributing to all aspects of our society several decades later. While it is difficult to plan with certainty for the unknown, in faith we must plan, nonetheless. As our Maths teachers would say, we will use our calculus to figure out the x’s and y’s as we go.

Malcolm X said that “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today”. People are any country’s greatest natural resource, and the education system plays a critical role in making sure that people are equipped for life and as a result the country thrives. Persons being able to make a living wage and have a good quality of life is rooted in the education process and can be used as a baseline for measuring national success.

In answering the questions above, I would pose the following question “what are the students learning to make them leaders?” In engineering, we would view the school system as a component of the education system which is vast and complex. For example: The first educators in a child’s life are their family circle and wider community. By the time they hear a school bell there are some things they need to unlearn before laying a foundation that will be built on over the next 10 – 12 years. At the end of this process, we hope to have a young adult ready and empowered to continue the building of our country and the world.

Apart from the school system of curricula, methodology, teachers and facilities, NGOs like the Girl Guides and the Sunday School were components of the education system that I grew up in and that helped to reinforce my life skills development. This may not be the same experience of many of our students today and we must ask ourselves why? And how do we shift back to the Village raising its children? We must look first for the root causes of the problem to identify the solutions.

If our goals are to 1) bring our education system into the 21st century, 2) help every student realise their potential and 3) develop well-rounded citizens that become the business leaders and career professionals that our economy needs, we must broaden the scope of the reform to transform the “education system.” We should plan thoroughly, continuously improve what works and eliminate what doesn’t contribute value.

What do our students need to learn to help them develop into leaders?

  • The curriculum should focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths (STEM) subjects, the Performing Arts and other relevant knowledge areas that align with the country’s workforce needs. This should include vocational training subjects.
  • VI history & culture, civics and multiple languages are needed for global competitiveness
  • After-school/community-sponsored programs that teach life skills: teamwork, conflict resolution, discipline, money management, leadership, critical thinking, work ethic, entrepreneurship, etc.

What is needed?

  • More cohesion amongst the supporting actors: Reading Council, library system, NGOs, sports associations, churches, businesses, clubs, etc. – essentially the Village.
  • Active recruitment of the Virgin Islands diaspora is needed to encourage qualified persons to contribute to building their homeland and stop the brain drain. Ways can be created for this to happen even for those who cannot relocate.
  • Young leaders need to be developed through succession planning, internships and apprenticeships in the private sector and the public service. Also, more work experience overseas should be encouraged to equip and educate our students for their careers of choice.

The task ahead may seem like a daunting one, but the great news is that this is NOT for the Ministry of Education to do alone but the entire society, all of us, must play our part in equipping our students for their tomorrow.