Acknowledgement of Guests, etc.:
Tonight, we have gathered here at Government House to recognise, honour and applaud the sterling contributions of some of our retired Education Officials. I am advised by the Permanent Secretary of Education, Mr William Vincent Hodge, that there are some 87 such retirees here this evening who have rendered yeoman service to the development of education in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Singularly and collectively your service as educators has enabled you to touch lives, to inspire many, and to make a meaningful difference to the countless number of children and their families with whom you came in contact over the course of your careers. For all that you have done – publicly and in private – the Government thanks you for invaluable and exemplary service.
St. Kitts and Nevis is privileged to have a strong education system. We have come a very long way from a post-emancipation, parochial system of education, through the Standards-based, colonial school system, the introduction of secondary education, and now to the point of having tertiary education available right here in the Federation. Education continues to be of benefit to all who take advantage of the opportunities it affords. Our schools continue to provide high quality education to our students, with offerings in arts and sciences, technical and vocational disciplines – in an effort to assist our children in discerning and developing their interests, talents and career goals. Our students are also exposed to soft-skills training, which is equally as important as academics, in order to develop such vital life skills as teamwork, communications, leadership, and interpersonal relations. As such, our schools are also institutions for interaction between students from different socio- economic and cultural backgrounds.
However, in spite of all that we have achieved in the advancement of education which you, our stalwarts have made possible, I feel the need to challenge all who are involved in our Federal delivery of education to “rethink school”. By this, I mean that the time has come for us to thoughtfully and honestly consider just how our national education accomplishments have assisted in improving the individual achievement of our students. For example, can we safely
say that our soft skills’ education and training go far enough to help children cope with today’s formidable challenges such as gang influences, drugs, bullying and school violence? Gone are the days when ‘school’ was just a place where children came to do academics and learn trades. Today’s ‘school system’ transcends that traditional mission and must now become the place where students are able to develop the life skills needed to survive in the complex communities, family and domestic life structures in which they are growing up. There is no excuse for not providing such support to our young people: for a multiplicity of reasons the nuclear family is often unable to provide such vital grounding to our Nation’s children.
As a member of the international community, it is imperative that St. Kitts and Nevis keep pace with the rapid global changes that are taking place in the field of education. The Ministry of Education has seen the need to meet these challenges and shifts in the delivery of quality education, and has responded via the Education Sector Plan 2017 – 2021 (Education for All: Embracing Change, Securing the Future). Among the many listed strategies and priorities the document speaks to the retention of qualified teachers by implementing a continuous professional development framework and improving career path motivation. The Plan also speaks to the expansion of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) areas at the secondary and post-secondary levels. This is to be done via support from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) – to provide certified training up to the degree level for approximately
45 instructors. In short, some of the opportunities that may have not been available to some of you retired Educators who are being honoured tonight, are being made available to the new generation of teachers, as we seek to broaden their career paths.
As retired Educators, our Government calls upon you to assist young teachers in remembering the fundamentals of the educator’s mission, which should be: to mould the future of the Nation, by moulding the people who will determine the future of our Nation. In so doing, our schools should provide our children with a balanced and well-rounded education; help them to unlock the door to their full potential; and nurture them into being good citizens, conscious of their responsibilities to family, community and Country. Our younger teachers must therefore be reminded that the purpose of education must go far and beyond instruction in academics and reach over into the delivery of crucial skills needed to prepare our students for life, for work, for patriotism and for genuine citizenship. I believe that in your own way, as former Educators, this was your mission – and perhaps it still is…as I have often heard and subscribe to the expression “once a teacher, always a teacher.” Life, Work, Patriotism and Citizenship are ever evolving. Hence, our approaches to education, its programming, and areas of emphasis must keep pace in order to maintain currency and relevance for the future. This, Ladies and Gentlemen, to my mind, is the challenge of education systems today.
From your many years of experience as Educators, I am certain that you have long discovered that preparing our students for life in an uncertain and difficult world demands a certain brand of self-reliance and resilience to bounce back after adversity. Yet, nurturing resilience is not easy. Why? Because it demands a high level of emotional intelligence. Resilience also calls for the ability to view setbacks and disappointments as learning experiences. It also requires one to learn the hard lesson of placing friendship and enmity in the back seat while positioning wisdom and experience in the driver’s seat. With all the knowledge, education, skills and training we can invest in children I am sure all of you would agree that experience still is our Greatest Teacher. This message comes across emphatically in the book The Game of Life and How to Play It by illustrator and metaphysical writer, Florence Scovel Shinn. In the well-read 1925 classic she poignantly notes “No Man is Your Enemy, No Man is Your Friend, Every Man is Your Teacher”. Every Educator has a role to play in helping our students to learn from bad experiences and from the people who are at the centre of those bad experiences. Failure to attain this level of maturity can create a breeding ground for anti-social behaviour and coping difficulties that we see in some of our young people today. Teachers can do so much good in arresting these trends before they become full-blown and lead to crime and criminality.
Ladies and Gentlemen: As I ponder your collective achievements over your combined years of service as Educators I remember two expressions I learnt as a substitute English Teacher at Basseterre High School from 1986-1988. The first expression was from the late Chief Education Officer, Dr Joseph Halliday, who always reminded us as young teachers that “Teaching is one of the most noble professions”. The second expression I learnt was from countless teaching colleagues in the staff room of the Western Campus of Basseterre High School. It was “Education is thankless job”. I am sure that all of you, in your teaching sojourn, have heard both expressions repeatedly – and perhaps experienced both realities first- hand. That Teaching is a noble profession is indisputable. The same can be said of all other jobs that are humbly and selflessly done in service to others. The ingratitude that teachers often feel after pouring their substance into children also cannot be denied. Yet, in spite of the humility of the career and the low levels of appreciation that are often felt, I put it to you that we would have been nowhere without good teachers who took an interest in us. Likewise, I am sure that you can individually point to countless children whose lives may have turned out horribly wrong were it not for the sacrifices that you made for them. You would have helped them, for example:
to learn to spell, write and read;
to understand math and science;
to understand that they were important, by leaving your own children and other family members undone as you stayed back
after school and gave your students extra attention rather than having them go home to an empty house without adult supervision; and
to understand the importance of nutrition in the learning process, by sharing your lunch with them as they came to school hungry, brought nothing for lunch, and were going home after school to a dinner of bread and cheese with swank, if they were so lucky.
You would have also assisted your students in many other ways, such as:
by being mother or father to those whose parents were either working long hours or missing in action;
by being a life coach and motivator to those children whose parents were unable to teach them about self-worth, self-image and self-confidence to achieve heights of greatness in life;
by exposing them to the social graces as you brought them to your home to learn to eat at table, from a dinner plate with a knife and fork, rather than remaining stuck into thinking they could only eat on the back steps from a spalled enamel bowl using a spoon.
by helping to finance the cost of their education through the purchase of uniforms, school supplies and text books, and the payment of exam fees; and
by ending the vicious cycle of teen pregnancies in certain families as you taught young girls to value themselves, understand the priceless gift of their virginity, and to delay the onset of sexual activity at least until they could support a family of their own, backed by a good education and a solid job.
While I cannot speak for the level of sacrifice that our younger generation of teachers is currently making I can safely say that every one of these examples I just gave were practiced by the teachers of the 1970s and 1980s at whose feet I was privileged to be taught and to whom I owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. One of these teachers is here with us this evening as an honoree. She is Mrs Muriel Daniel Powell who I now ask to stand. Mrs Powell was my Grade 4 teacher at the Sandy Point Junior School. She was my homeroom teacher, and also taught me English and Civics. To you, Mrs Powell I say a hearty “Thank You”.
So many of you at this gathering would have given to your students until it hurt. You may have even suffered the unwarranted jealousy by some parents who felt that their children valued your opinion and direction far more than theirs. And yet, some of you may have poured so much into your students who were in need, and carry disappointments regarding the way they turned out, or from the ingratitude that they and their families may have towards you, as old folks say “now that that they have become somebody.” For all that you have done to help our Nation’s children, and for all that you
continue to do for current and future generations, the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis says a loud and resounding “Thank You”.
Tonight, as honorees who are being recognised for your long service to the field of Education, our Government hopes and trusts that your service to this Country has not come to an end. Our Team Unity Administration is indeed committed to life-long learning and ongoing, meaningful partnerships in education. What I mean is that your retirement can be seen as an opportunity for new challenges, to open new doors and venture in. For some of you it is an opportunity for entrepreneurship. Who is to say what new heights we can achieve in education if some of you were to pool your resources of talent, intellect, knowledge and years of experience by investing in private education sector through institutional development – such as starting a new school? Who is to say that you cannot write and publish new textbooks and related applications that are easily adapted to the new, global culture of ICT-based learning that exploits the technology now available to us like never before? At this moment in your life the sky is the limit. Your imagination should be unbound and your ability to reinvent your life and re-engineer your career should be within your reach with ease. I am quite certain that our Ministry of Education would be more than willing to partner with you to achieve these new objectives which can be of great benefit to our Nation’s children and our current education system.
As I close my remarks on behalf of the Honourable Prime Minister, I wish to throw out a challenge to all 87 Awardees here tonight. In all of the years I have lived here in St. Kitts and Nevis I have never heard of the establishment of a Retired Teachers’ Association. I stand to be corrected on this measure but I only know of the Teachers’ Union movement in the Federation. I would like you all to consider the formation of this Association, given the immense impact that you can still make on the educational landscape of our Nation. In this way, the following can be achieved:
1) Your continued linkages with the Ministry of Education can be solidified;
2)You can become a respected, consultative partner to Government and the private sector in the planning and delivery of education;
3) You can also provide structured mentorship to so many of our young teachers who can benefit from your wisdom and experience;
4) You can provide a pool of available human resources to the Ministry of Education, especially at short notice, and particularly for those subject areas for which it is often difficult to find good teachers;
5) You can stage an annual, regional flagship event – such as a regional education conference – perhaps in partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Teachers’ Union, the International
Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) – in an effort to bring together like-minded individuals, educators, and related stakeholders to address the changing trends in the global delivery of education. In so doing, you will be well poised to assist in the improved preparation of our children to meet the demands of tomorrow’s labour force. (As I say this, I am mindful of recent comments by the Governor of the ECCB, Dr Timothy Antione regarding how we are educating the children of our region by teaching them to amass passes in CXC subject areas rather than revolutionizing education to realistically prepare pupils for jobs, for careers and for entrepreneurship in an ever-changing global economy by creatively applying what they learn … but that is a topic for another forum.)
Tonight is about celebrating your achievements, and I am happy to be here to share in this memorable occasion with you. In a past life I would have had the honour to lead a recognition programme that singled out – on an annual basis – a small cadre of teachers who would have helped their students to prepare for their CSEC examinations. That event would have only recognised one teacher per high school in the Federation. However, tonight’s event goes far and above that, where education officials who would have been retired between the years 2015 and 2018 are now being presented with their laurels. On behalf of the Federal Government, and in
particular the Honourable Prime Minister who could not be here this evening, I congratulate you sincerely. We honour you and we thank you for your service to this Country and we wish you every success in your future endeavours. We also look forward to hearing of the continued good that you will bring to our Nation’s children.
Thank you for your attention.