Director of Education, Mr. Clare Browne, delivered a thought provoking presentation focusing on the advances and challenges pertaining to literacy in Antigua and Barbuda.
Good afternoon. I learned early from the American economist and 1976 Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Madam President, distinguished Rotarians, perhaps it might sound a little redundant, but I intend no violence to language when I say – it is a pleasurable honour to address you. I propose to navigate my 15-minute time allotment with initial general comments apropos to my Ministry’s intention for Education in a 21st century Antigua and Barbuda and then close with attention on literacy.
The 21st century economy is information-based and driven by technology and globalization. In a knowledge economy, therefore, every student must be provided with opportunities to acquire and demonstrate a range of competencies and skills that go beyond those that were traditionally taught, including problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation. Undoubtedly, every student in Antigua and Barbuda must be provided with an education that enables him/her to use new and emerging information and take full advantage of technologically driven careers. 21st century job growth must never surpass our ability to produce a prepared workforce with greater understanding and application of technology, multiple literacies, adaptability and employability. Thus, it is more critical than ever that we teach these skills. Put another way, students’ educational experiences must both reflect our current digital reality and equip them to engage with it if they are to stake their claim in our fast-changing world. In this milieu, the education system must respond effectively to the demands and performance standards of the production sector as well as to economic and international competitiveness if it is to remain relevant.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is determined to cultivate in all our educational institutions an ethos that enables students to take full advantage of the entire complement of 21st century skills so they may agilely navigate a digital world and not be left to blindly grope around an obscure global marketplace. To encourage and facilitate the use of differentiated and student-centered strategies, research skills, innovative thinking, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills within the teaching and learning domain, among other things, the Ministry decided to go the path of digital textbooks, beginning with public secondary schools.
Often referred to as the “net generation”, today’s students see a sizable chunk of their world through a monitor; their brains, therefore, have adapted to drawing in information that way. Research has shown that students learn more successfully when they are engaged and comfortable with the way the material is presented. According to South University, (2013):
“Students who thrive on watching videos, looking at infographics or diagrams, or
following along with a narrator, e-books allow for a more enriching experience
than plain text. In this way, they expand learning opportunities to students who may not have done as well using traditional materials.”
 Numerous other studies conclude that using technology can be greatly advantageous to the learning process. If our students are to be meaningfully engaged to pursue careers that do not yet exist, to compete in the coming decades, the education system here must be reviewed and renewed to ensure this exploitation of future jobs, to safeguard this global competitiveness. In spite of the surrounding discourse, the e-books and devices have a fundamental role to play in this transition. However, for this venture to be successful, all stakeholders (Ministry of Education, Board of Education, Principals, Teachers, Students, Parents and community) must work in partnership. We acknowledge that well over a decade, the Rotary Club of Antigua with its affiliate the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club and through the Rotary Grant Project has provided thousands of computer systems and other hardware for students and teachers as well as training for teachers to improve their ability to reach students more effectively by using technology in their lesson plans and lessons. 
A 21st century education requires not just a capacity to traverse a digital world, but must provide students with the opportunities to know and the means to do. At the Ministry of Education we recognize the need to take cognisance of the modern education paradigm that places considerable emphasis on an integration of academic and technical vocational qualification. We understand that our education system must focus on the provision of knowledge as well as the technical and affective skills and competencies that are relevant to the establishment of a new generation of human resources to adequately respond to the 21st century’s ever shifting social and economic needs and other developmental priorities. We understand that academic and technical education must be equally offered to all students.The focus on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), “a study of technologies and related sciences and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge related to occupation in various sectors of economic and social lives” is not intended to “TVET-ize,” as it were, the curriculum at the exclusion of academic subjects, but rather to offer a balanced bundle of disciplines (academic and technical) that will produce well-rounded, ideal global citizens. 
The Bonn Declaration on Learning for Work, Citizenship and Sustainability (October 2004) posits:
“Since education is considered to be the key to effective development strategies, Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is the master key that can alleviate poverty, conserve the environment, improve the quality of life for all and achieve sustainable development."
Unquestionably, the overall development of any society is contingent on having sufficiently skilled workers in diverse technical and vocational fields.
A 21st century education demands a heavy investment in very young children so as to maximize their future wellbeing. Evidence suggests that the emotional, social and physical nurture of young children have a direct effect on their overall development and on the adults that will eventually emerge. Consequently, any discourse about education in the 21st century must of necessity engender dialogue on early stimulation programmes. Future learners will need an excellent start in early learning if they are to cope with the 21st century challenges.
This century’s rapid development of artificial intelligence and digital systems has convinced us that almost every aspect of the future of children’s lives will be different from ours.  As these emerging technologies evolve, and are quickly replaced by new ones, human society needs to become increasingly lither. The need for children to memorize facts has diminished and replaced by the need for children to learn how to sieve through and assess information critically. Children need a greater ability to learn how to learn and to possess problem solving and critical thinking skills and be resilient in the face of constant change. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology recognises the need to focus more in Early Childhood Education on developing creative thinking, curiosity,  problem solving, critical analysis, the attainment of core subject knowledge, and strong early literacy and numeracy. For us in the Ministry, early years learning must be focussed on whole child development rather than mere academic education. We must create a re-envisioned early childhood education system that truly provides the foundational learning that our children deserve. There must be greater emphasis on integrated learning that builds a nexus between the academic and the social. Developing children’s competencies in creativity, collaboration, self-regulation and problem solving must be undertaken through projects and other activities that harbour real-world knowledge. For us, early childhood education must focus on the learning process rather than the learning outcomes. Also connected to this is the focus on interactions that support children working together to solve problems, clarify concepts, evaluate activities and so on. In contestably, when early education provisions are high quality, there is lasting change for good.
A 21st century education commissions a calculated focus on literacy. Reading is an essential skill for a child’s further academic development and later professional success, especially in the emerging knowledge-based society.
According to UNESCO, globally, at least 750 million youth and adults still cannot read and write and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills. Under the umbrella of the OECS Commission, with financial support from the USAID, key focus was placed on equipping students to be competent readers by Grade 3 (that is, the majority of students reading at or above grade level). To obtain data on the reading performance of students at Grade 2, a baseline early reading assessment was conducted. The data revealed the need to address
  • Teachers instruction competencies
  • Provision of teaching and learning materials
  • Continuous professional training
  • Establishment of a language policy and reading curriculum
The Final Report (OECS, 2016) chronicled that throughout the six independent states in the region (Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines), 58 % of the assessed students were reading below that of the grade 1 level. This is a cause for reflection and call to action as 6.3% in St Vincent and the Grenadines to 13% in Dominica showed reading competence at or above grade level. (Put another way, at least 87% of the students assessed were reading below the grade 2 level).
Antigua and Barbuda performance was commensurate with that of the region where only 5.3 % of the students demonstrated comprehension proficiency. This means while there is some instruction in sound/symbol correspondence, there needs to be a focus on reading for meaning. The OECS data parallels that of the recent National Assessment data across Grades 2, 4 and 6…..
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology considers the acquiring and improving of literacy skills throughout life as an intrinsic part of the right to education. The “multiplier effect” of literacy empowers people, enables them to participate fully in society and contributes to improved livelihoods. Literacy is a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities.
Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.
To advance literacy as an integral part of our education agenda, the Ministry of Education is embarking on the following approaches:
  • Building strong foundations through early childhood care and education
  • Providing quality basic education for all children
  • Scaling-up functional literacy levels for youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills
  • Developing literate environments
We acknowledge the work of the Rotary Club of Antigua in the area of literacy and anticipates continued support. We need it.
In conclusion, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is committed to fashioning a 21st century education system that enables all our young learners to become “emotionally intelligent and socially competent; productive and entrepreneurial; equipped for lifelong and adaptive learning; citizen centric and service oriented; environmentally friendly and globally functional”. None deserves less.
Madam President, distinguished Rotarians, I appreciate your attention.