Investment in education can fuel Caribbean growth

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Lilia Burunciuc

By Lilia Burunciuc

Education is a solid pillar for qualitative growth and improvement of human capital. In the Caribbean, home to 11 million young people aged 15 to 29, investing in education isn’t just good for young people, it’s good for nations. It can help countries build more resilient, productive and peaceful societies.

During my visit to Guyana in August, I had the chance to enter a brand new school. It was beautifully equipped with cutting-edge technology, modern laboratories and spacious classrooms. The school was a testament to the government’s commitment to invest in education and provide the best opportunities for their young people. However, something was missing from the picture – the students.

This image of empty schools is being reproduced across the Caribbean as governments grapple with the impact of the pandemic. According to UNICEF, more than 114 million children are out of school in Latin America and the Caribbean – the largest number of children in the world without face-to-face schooling. The Jamaican government estimates that approximately 120,000 of its students are absent from school due to [the] pandemic. Some Caribbean countries are starting to take in students – the school I visited in Guyana is now seeing its first students, but there are countries where students are still attending online schools or not attending school at all.

The prolonged school closures that began with the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 led to the most severe education crisis in the past 100 years. According to a recent World Bank report on the education sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, early estimates of the effects of school closures in the region are staggering and could lead to around two in three students. may not be able to read or understand age. – adequate texts. In addition, school closures and difficult economic conditions contribute to early school leaving. According to International Labor Organization data from 2019 and 2020, due to limited opportunities for education and employment, around three in ten young people in the Caribbean are not in school, employed or in training.

Limited access to the Internet, books, appropriate workspaces, and advice from parents and teachers can prevent children and young people from reaching their full potential for human development.

Even before the pandemic, many Caribbean countries faced significant human capital deficits. On average, a child born in the Caribbean can only hope to reach 55% of their full productive potential, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index.

The current pandemic crisis will only exacerbate this problem.

The latest economic forecasts from the World Bank predict that the Latin America and the Caribbean region will only see growth of 2.8% in 2022.

Prospects for the Caribbean are mixed, most countries will experience modest growth, but some countries continue to fall behind. In 2022, GDP growth is expected to reach 4% in Jamaica and Guyana, 3.2% in Haiti, 1.8% in Suriname, 10.6% in Saint. Lucia and 8.3 percent in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

As the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region’s human capital and future productivity may become permanent, Caribbean countries have an opportunity to take the right steps to protect our children and build a better future for people. of the region. These actions should focus on three priority areas:

Expanding post-secondary and preschool education opportunities

Providing better and more affordable options for secondary school students to develop their technical and vocational skills will be essential for improving and retraining the skills of the population. This could be done, for example, by increasing the number of certification programs offered at the upper secondary and post-secondary levels. In addition, increasing the number of enrollments and improving the quality of preschool education will be essential to ensure that students entering basic education do so with adequate levels of academic and emotional preparation.

Channel efforts towards correcting learning losses.

Some students, especially those from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds, will have fallen behind in the reopening of schools and will need academic upgrading and socio-emotional support. Actions such as simplifying curricula, but preserving certain learning standards, changing academic calendars, and canceling high-stakes exams may be needed to adapt teaching and learning to the new reality. At the same time, investments should be made in teacher training to strengthen pedagogy, counseling and digital skills of teachers.

Use education technology (EdTech) to improve service delivery.

Many Caribbean countries have made efforts to provide students with access to computers and the Internet. While these efforts need to be sustained and expanded, governments can take advantage of existing infrastructure to use education technology to expand access to university programs and student services such as counseling, remediation and career services.

Some of our work at the World Bank is already helping to solve the problem. For example, the Saint Lucia Human Capital and Resilience Project is helping to make post-secondary education more accessible and relevant to students by creating new technical programs in high-demand occupations. The program also helps forge stronger bonds with employers so that graduates enjoy a smoother transition from education to work. The school I visited in Guyana was built and funded under the Secondary Education Improvement Project, also supported by the World Bank.

I have met young people from all over the Caribbean since my appointment in July. Recently I had a conversation with youth leaders in Saint Lucia who inspired me with their enthusiasm and desire to contribute to the growth of their region. One of the things they told me was that the people of the Caribbean see education as a way out of poverty. I couldn’t agree with them more.

As we move through this time of uncertainty, I believe the Caribbean countries are well positioned to lay the groundwork for a resilient recovery, with a renewed focus on our most valuable asset – people.

Lilia Burunciuc, World Bank Country Director for Caribbean Countries.

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