A PERSPECTIVE FOR BARBADOS’ ADVANCEMENT IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION
After almost seven years of DLP government, our beloved Barbados continues to be in the midst of the deep socio-economic crisis where it has been since 2009. The Stuart-led political administration has been unable to articulate in any clear manner either to our citizens, to our potential foreign investors or to the international organizations of which Barbados is a member a pathway whereby it would lead the country out of this existing depression.
One of the strategies which government ought to adopt in order to return Barbados to positive economic growth is to invest more heavily than it is at present doing in science, technology and innovation. The political directorate needs to recognize that integrating a vision for science, technology and innovation in an understandable long-term development strategy can be a key factor in achieving an improved quality of life for the majority of our people. However, for such a policy to be successful, our scientists and innovators must be supported by high-level government officials who have the vision, pragmatism, political will and understanding as well as the ability to formulate such strategy and subsequently to lead its implementation.
It is highly doubtful that the Barbados government as presently constituted is capable of this task. The Ministerial portfolio of Science, Technology and Innovation is presently like an outcast third cousin attached to the portfolio of Education. There is neither a permanent secretary nor administrative office within this Ministry to lead any strategy for the development of a science, technology and innovation agenda in our nation.
The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) was established by the Tom Adams-led administration in 1977. It is the most long-standing institution in the area of science, technology and innovation in Barbados. It presently exists from the offices which house the Ministry of Commerce and Trade and not the Ministry of Education. Its total operating expenditure granted in this financial year’s Estimates as laid in Parliament is a mere half million dollars.
The Barbados Human Development Strategy Paper, 2011-2016 describes the main functions of this department as the promotion of science and technology, creativity and innovation to the public, particularly the youth and the rendering of technical assistance to persons seeking to research, develop and commercialize new, innovative products and service ideas. The agency is also supposed to act as an information hub on science and technology and to collect, analyse and disseminate reliable, current and relevant information. It is, however, unquestionably understaffed, under-resourced and incapable in its present form of playing any part in facilitating any leading role for Barbados among small island developing states in the development of this area of potential economic growth.
This DLP administration has failed to communicate any transparent policy or vision on what should really be a major development tool of government policy. The present political directorate is like a “rudderless ship” drifting further and further out to sea without any captain on board. Many countries in the world which have demonstrated that they are serious in advancing themselves as countries of excellence for the development of science, technology and innovation have placed institutions monitoring this area under the cabinet responsibility of the Prime Minister. This is the case in Malaysia and in Finland, which is a pioneer state in this field.
Additionally, the present Government of Barbados defeats its own stated objective of “[recognizing] the importance of investment in research, innovation and entrepreneurship as providing a competitive advantage in an increasingly global economy” (Barbados Human Development Strategy Paper at page 62). It is the first Government in half a century to impose the payment of tuition costs on our citizens seeking to study at the campuses of the University of the West Indies, including in the departments of science and technology. Furthermore, the current Minister of Education must bear full cabinet responsibility for the decision of that Ministry, in the space of a year, to reduce the number of National Development Scholarships granted to Barbadians to one-third of what were granted in the year just before the last general elections. In addition, the areas of study for which such scholarships can be awarded have been drastically cut.
A progressive Government would understand that heavier investment in science and technology from our primary school system right through to our university is required to act as a catalyst for the creation of innovative products and services as well as for the development of entrepreneurship in our country. An enlightened administration would comprehend that research and development in the sciences and technology should be given some degree of priority at the tertiary level of our education system. For example, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic ought to be granted more financial and technical resources coincidental with Barbados’ developmental requirements for the next two decades, so that it can offer a greater variety of courses to a larger amount of students at more numerous locations throughout the country.
Furthermore, a caring political directorate would visualize that the creation of an enabling environment whereby more persons with disabilities could be educated in areas of science and technology development would ultimately lead to some of the most vulnerable in our society having the opportunity to realize their full potential.
Such a Government would have encouraged science and technology parks, perhaps through our university, for the increased knowledge base and practical education of our youth. A greater number of national innovation scholarships, awards and other incentives would have been granted to facilitate and encourage innovators and entrepreneurs in new fields of development for the ultimate benefit of Barbados and the wider Caribbean.
All of these policy initiatives, if implemented, would ultimately result in the further development of our people, our society and our economy. Such initiatives would in the long term lead to greater national productivity, increased commercial competitiveness and a reduction in our unacceptably high unemployment rate.
The DLP Government has instead taken the highly retrogressive policy position of not supporting the full financial costs of all of our tertiary education students and of being in present debt to our University of the West Indies campuses to the tune of over $200 million.
The BLP envisages government as the facilitator of opportunities for all worthy Barbadians to progress with the necessary skills and knowledge to compete in an advancing technical age. This DLP government has failed the citizens of this island in its stated attempt to create a just society and economy. The BLP on the other hand remains committed to supporting Barbados’ development as a centre of excellence among small island developing states in the areas of science, technology and innovation and as part of a national effort to again create sustainable economic growth, increased employment and to produce a higher quality of life for all citizens in our country. We must strive for a better standard of technical and scientific education and innovation.
Attorney-at-Law, Advocate for the Disabled and St. James North MP