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Reform Policies Aim to Unify Region in the Caribbean
By Peter Richards
Inter Press Service

     PORT OF SPAIN, Apr 4 (IPS) - The seven-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is revamping its education system to ''advance'' the integration of the sub-region.
     In 1991, OECS education ministers created the OECS Education Reform Unit (OERU) to make education ''more relevant and better able to advance the development of member states through the educational growth of its human resource base.''
   OECS officials told IPS the Reform Unit has acted as a curriculum developer, information facilitator, legal draughtsman, teacher-trainer and education strategist, and is hoping to be a ''bridge-maker between the public and private sector.''
   The OERU is also working towards strengthening the management and administration practices in the individual Education Ministry's in the Caribbean, while networking with regional and international educational organisations.
   ''Underlying most of the goals of the OERU is the effort to harmonise the professional components of the sub-region,'' says the head of the St. Lucia-based Education Reform Unit, Lorna Callender.
   The Reform Unit, she explained, has already been instrumental in developing a ''model'' education bill for adaptation and adoption by member states. So far two countries, Dominica and St. Lucia, have enacted the new legislation.
   Grade names have been standardised in all schools throughout the sub-region. Now the Reform Unit is in the process of organising workshops aimed at ''harmonising objectives and best practices in several subject areas.''
     ''At a tertiary level, efforts are being made to establish a tertiary College Council, to harmonise accreditation practices, associate degree criteria and to link library access through technology,'' according to Callender.
     ''Apart from access and quality, we want to empower teachers to take on leadership positions and by enhancing the human resources of the country ... We want to ensure that we build a better, more humane and civil society because there is the desire to educate the child more holistically now,'' says Callender.
     The OECS groups Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat, Antigua and St. Kitts-Nevis. They share a common currency, a central bank, The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), and a common market for the sub-region.
     The common education initiative was launched after the 1990 global meeting in Jomtien, Thailand, where participating countries agreed to pursue an 'Education for All' goal.
     A year later, the OECS set up a task force to develop an education blueprint -- based on proposals which had been presented to the region's education ministers at their meeting in the British Virgin Islands.
     The document titled 'Foundations for the Future' outlines 65 strategies; and covered all areas -- networking, management and administration, enhancement, sustainability and participation.
     Raymond O'Keefe, education officer at the OERU, says the reform process will equip ''individuals ... with more efficient methods and tools for taking on the challenges of the new millennium as dictated by concepts such as globalisation.''
     The funds have been provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the British and German governments, and the European Union under its Lome III programme.
     Callender says the funding allows the OERU to implement programmes that upgrade the skills of teachers as well as provide curriculum materials for both primary and secondary in-service training programmes. She says for curriculum development, the Reform Unit has been holding a number of ''intensive sub-regional workshops which compare and improve present practices.''
     In addition, technical and vocational teachers are being given assistance to improve their skills at regional colleges, while postgraduate scholarships are provided through several projects. The funding also allows for the construction and expansion of schools across the Caribbean region's seven island states.
     ''In addition, the unit is working to establish Management Information Systems which reveal, among other things, trends in enrollment and demography statistics. With these indicators, member states will be better informed when making decisions related to improving access,'' Callender explains.
     Under the reform programme, surveys are conducted to assess students' attitudes and teachers' work. Using the evidence, ''the (Reform) Unit tries to assist ministries in providing better guidance (both in school and at home) for students ... (aimed) at producing more motivated students ... to improve commitment and satisfaction among teachers,'' says Callender.
     But the OERU recognises there are still some areas to be developed. These include early childhood education which has now begun to receive attention and special and continuing education, which officials admit are ''pending''.
   ''We at the OECS want to make education a lifelong learning process. The notion is to improve the quality of life of all individuals in the region,'' says O'Keefe.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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