An Open Let­ter to Gale: Part 1

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the purpose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Dear Gale,

Al­most three decades ago Dr. Jules pro­duced a plan for the re­for­ma­tion of the pub­lic ser­vice. It was largely ig­nored at the time; ac­tu­ally, to­tally ig­nored would be more cor­rect, which is a pity be­cause although gov­ern­ments come and gov­ern­ments go, the “Ser­vice” con­tin­ues along its me­an­der­ing way as it con­venes hun­dreds of meet­ings, takes or de­lays thou­sands of de­ci­sions, pro­duces hun­dreds of thou­sands of doc­u­ments and achieves very lit­tle, or noth­ing at all. From my per­spec­tive, the Min­istries of Ed­u­ca­tion and Health, pos­si­bly the largest of the min­istries, il­lus­trate bet­ter than any other the lum­ber­ing in­ef­fi­ciency of the pub­lic ser­vice.

Five years ago, I wrote an open let­ter to the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion point­ing out a few ideas that I be­lieved would bring some sem­blance of life to a mori­bund sys­tem. I was wrong. Ba­si­cally noth­ing has changed but, be­ing the eter­nal op­ti­mist, I have de­cided to put my fin­gers to key­board and pro­duce over the next few weeks yet another col­lec­tion of ideas for the Min­is­ter to con­sider. You no­tice, Dear Min­is­ter, that I of­fer the ideas for Your Con­sid­er­a­tion, not the con­sid­er­a­tion of the Min­istry. Frankly, those in power at the min­istry have no in­ter­est in re­form, seek se­cu­rity in the Maze of Pro­ce­dure, shun new ideas, and flee from new thoughts. They seek redemp­tion in words, not ac­tion.

You won­der per­haps at my use of the term 'those in power'; rest as­sured Dear Min­is­ter: You have lit­tle or no power in the face of your Ser­vice ‘un­der­lings'. Twenty years ago, Dr. Jules taught me that the Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary was the power be­hind the min­is­ter's throne, yet no P.S. could ever suc­ceed un­less he or she ran roughshod over those en­trenched in the top ech­e­lons of the Ser­vice. Some­how you have to surf over the lip ser­vice, ig­nore the false prom­ises, force the pro­cras­ti­na­tors to ac­cept dead­lines and en­force sanc­tions on fail­ures to de­liver agreed results on time. You have to Stamp your Au­thor­ity on Your Min­istry. The great­est threat of all is the kow­tow­ing of­fi­cial who de­lays ev­ery tiny pro­gres­sive step by in­sist­ing to oth­ers that he or she is wait­ing for the min­is­ter (that's you) to give her ap­proval or sign off on a de­ci­sion. You see, Dear Min­is­ter, these of­fi­cials de­cide what you see and what you don't see: it is they who de­cide what goes for­ward and what rots in a drawer. Frankly, you don't stand a chance, but I wish you well. I truly wish you ev­ery suc­cess. So let's go . . .

For decades, per­haps from the be­gin­ning of its very ex­is­tence, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion has wielded im­mense power. It has stood alone as the sole ar­biter of the con­tent, di­rec­tion, dis­sem­i­na­tion and method of ed­u­ca­tion. Agreed, in some cases the min­istry has faced op­po­si­tion from re­li­gious fac­tions that have in­sisted that teach­ers be­long to one par­tic­u­lar faith in or­der to teach in their schools as if 2+2 for Catholics might re­sult in a dif­fer­ent re­sult if taught by Protes­tants. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, the min­istry de­cided what should be taught, what ma­te­ri­als should be used, which peo­ple should be teach­ers, how long the school day should be – yes, well, prac­ti­cally every­thing, even down to the num­ber of rolls of toi­let tis­sue a school should be is­sued with.

The Min­istry's role was pre­scrip­tive; the min­istry pre­scribed how the busi­ness of ed­u­ca­tion should be car­ried out. The min­istry laid down the law, drew up lists of teach­ing ma­te­ri­als, de­cided what had to be taught. Long be­fore Ge­orge Or­well's book ‘1984' saw the light of day, chil­dren were be­ing brain­washed by learn­ing what au­thor­i­ties deemed to be ‘cor­rect and proper con­tent'. Amer­i­can kids learned of a world viewed through cap­i­tal­is­tic Amer­i­can eyes; Rus­sian kids were fed com­mu­nist fare; Bri­tish chil­dren be­lieved the world be­longed to them and that ‘God was an English­man', and if he wasn't, then he should have been.

You know what, Dear Min­is­ter, times have changed, and changed in ways more dra­matic than any min­istry of­fi­cial could ever have an­tic­i­pated. I don't blame them for not recog­nis­ing this. The whole world has been taken by storm. The ad­vent of the In­ter­net, the rel­a­tive af­ford­abil­ity of Smartphones, the ac­cess to on­line con­tent and cour­ses has changed every­thing. Trag­i­cally, it is the fail­ure of well-mean­ing au­thor­i­ties, ea­ger to pro­vide com­put­ers, notepads and what­ever other forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that pop up on a monthly ba­sis, to re­alise one sim­ple fact: knowl­edge can no longer be leg­is­lated. Free ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, good, bad, re­li­able, bi­ased, dan­ger­ous, what have you, can no longer be kept out of schools. Free­dom is the next great chal­lenge in ed­u­ca­tion – in fact it's al­ready here.

And another thing: why do we need lists of ex­pen­sive, rarely used, al­ways chang­ing books, when every­thing we need is there on­line? Much more of all of this in my A-Mus­ings in the weeks to come.

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