Trade and Education: prioritizing human resource development

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By Elizabeth Morgan

Health, Education and Trade are essential to development”; I came across this recently as an essay topic. It is a factual statement especially for the small, middle-income developing countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Since 2020, there can be no doubt about the importance of good health to the economy. I have dealt with trade and health, in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic, in previous articles. For about 22 month, countries have been grappling with COVID-19 and its negative impact at the national, regional and global levels. I have dealt with education as it relates to creating a knowledge based economy, trade in services, the future of work and the 4th industrial revolution.

This past week, education and trade have been on my mind as I was looking at 2021 trade statistics for CARICOM Member States with partners, the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and Canada. The available statistics are not encouraging. Although most CARICOM countries show an increase in exports over 2020, the increase in imports show a widening trade deficit, except for Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, especially in trade with the USA. The decline in exports to the UK and EU show a continuing downward trend. For services, the tourist arrivals improved, but are still significantly below the 2019 figures.

Education was on my mind as on January 14, the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission chaired by Professor Orlando Patterson launched its 2021 Report on the Reform of Education in Jamaica. The Gleaner headline declared, “A crisis of poor performance”. A copy of this report scanned online tells a sorry tale of the state of education in Jamaica, no doubt exacerbated by the COVID crisis.

Education is indeed an essential component of trade and development. It is evident that CARICOM countries, in their recovery, need to improve trade in goods and services at the regional and international levels to generate growth and employment. To achieve this objective includes improving health and education which drives innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity. It is said that education reform in Europe in the 19th Century was undertaken as its importance to industrialization was recognized.

In fact, Jamaica’s education problems, in varying degrees, can be seen throughout the region, although there is generally a very high literacy rate.

The Literacy rate

Using World Bank figures, the literacy rates for the countries are: 1. Barbados (99.9%); 2. Trinidad and Tobago (99.9%); 3. Antigua and Barbuda (99.8%); 4. St. Kitts/Nevis (99%); 5. Grenada (99%); 6. Montserrat (97%); 7. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (96%); 8. Bahamas (95%); 9. Suriname (94.4%); 10. Dominica (94%); 11. St. Lucia (90%); 12. Jamaica (88%); 13. Guyana (86%); 14. Belize (83%); and 15. Haiti (61%).

The literacy rate in 1871, when education reform was introduced in the British West Indies, was about 16%. As was done in Britain, the colonial government focused on providing free and compulsory elementary education. The literacy rate improved steadily. Guyana is unique in having the highest literacy rate in the region, over 90%, by the 1960s, but, thereafter, a declining rate. Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago consistently maintained high literacy rates having invested in education. Haiti is the outlier. Some common problems in the region include: shortage of qualified and experienced teachers due to low salaries and better opportunities abroad especially in science and technology; the feminization of the teaching profession (more women than men); girls out performing boys at both the secondary and tertiary levels, which seems to be an international trend. I would think that the debate on the merits of single sex versus co-educational schools, which also seems international, has taken place in the region. Reforming education is a regional discussion concerning digitization; strategic thinking; creativity and innovation; more effectively engaging boys; advanced job training for the green and blue economies; proper certification; and competence in foreign languages, e.g. Spanish and French. Problems at the tertiary level also need to be resolved.

Of course, improving education and trade is linked to reducing the high crime rate in several CARICOM countries.

CARICOM HRD Strategy

Human resource development is a declared priority in CARICOM. The Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) adopted the Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy in 2019. This Strategy, to unlock regional human potential, recognizes the need for educational reform and its contribution to growth and development. It takes account of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I will assume that Jamaica’s Patterson Report took account of this regional strategy and its action plan.

Its implementation requires oversight of COHSOD, the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), and the Heads of Government led by the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis who has responsibility in the Quasi Cabinet.

As with everything in CARICOM, at the national and regional levels, implementation will be critical.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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