Education for a Caribbean Mindset. Inaugural Eric Downie Memorial Lecture Sept 2009.


The Reverend Dr. Devon Dick and the Organisers of the Boulevard Baptist Church have conferred on me the great honour to deliver this first Eric Downie Memorial Lecture. While the task is awesome, it is not one that I could decline. We are inaugurating the commemoration of the life and work of a remarkable son of Jamaica. Loving husband, devoted father, bedrock of the extended Downie family, teacher, a Mico Man to be exact, college lecturer, historian, teacher leader and Baptist deacon are but some of the areas in which he excelled. But then we would have left out dominoes, of which he was a master.

I first met Eric on becoming Principal of the Mico. Our friendship began through the playing of dominoes. At first, he was very reluctant to give the Principal six love, until he discovered that I could both take it and give it back. But I must tell you that giving Eric Downie six love in dominoes was no easy feat. You could take him to five, but he was incredible in finding ways to win the game that would make it six love. As I came to know the man, it became clear that his approach to playing dominoes was characteristic of who he was. He was cautious and considerate in relationships yet formidable and ferocious in defence of the people and the causes that he embraced.


The organisers of the Lecture were extremely generous in allowing me the latitude to choose the Topic. With this comes the obligation to give good reason for this to become standard practice in the lectures to follow.

The topic that I have chosen is “Education for a Caribbean Mindset in the Twenty-First Century”. This topic consists of four notions: Education, Caribbean, Mindset and Twenty-First Century. My intention is to explore each of them in a manner that provokes thought that gives birth to action. The order in which I will proceed is first to examine Mindset; second to define Caribbean contradictions that shape Mindsets within the region; third to examine developing trends in the Twenty-First century and their implications for the Caribbean; and finally to address Education in relation to the major challenges facing Caribbean peoples in the Twenty-first Century. My aim is to sketch the broad contours of the mindset that peoples of the Caribbean must cultivate, foster and nurture if we are to survive and continue to be a distinct people and society in the twenty-first century.


Dictionary definitions of mindset include the following:

  • An inclination or disposition
  • Beliefs about basic qualities of self and others
  • A set of assumptions, methods, or notions held by one or more people or groups of people
  • A habitual or characteristic mental attitude

Literally, mindset refers to how the mind is set in an individual or group. Mindset refers to mentality, psyche, outlook, and ways on understanding, interpreting and responding to situations. Research in psychology is increasingly showing that mindset is a critical factor in success in several areas.

Given the materialism of our times it is not surprising that how to make money would immediately become an area of interest in research on mindset.  Several persons have attempted to discover the mindset of millionaires. For example, (Smith 2008) identifies the Millionaire Mindset as:

  1. Taking absolute responsibility for everything that happens to you.
  2. Focusing on the positive
  3. Loving your work
  4. Following your own lead.
  5. Loving yourself
  6. Never being envious of others

It is a moot point whether the inclinations identified by Smith guarantee that persons possessing and practicing them will become millionaires. A more plausible proposition is that that persons possessing and practicing these inclinations are more likely to acquire wealth than others. Given the current interest in prosperity, I probably should not be positing a caveat but instead announcing a fee-paying course to teach the Millionaire Mindset.

Literatures have been developing around other mindsets, for example, the warrior mindset and the victim mindset. However, since this Lecture focuses on education let us take a brief look at mindset research in education. One of the leaders in this field is (Dweck 2006) of Stanford University.  In 2006 she published a book that documents much of her findings. Its title is “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”.  Dweck reports that in 30 years of research she has found that what children think about their intelligence is more important in determining success in school than their actual scores on IQ tests. Students could be grouped into two basic categories. Those who believed that their intelligence was fixed, that is, that they were bright or dumb and that there was little that they could do about it and those who believed that they could learn and improve if they worked hard. The first she labelled as having a Fixed Mindset and the second as having a Growth Mindset.

Dweck found that students with a Fixed Mindset, and considered themselves bright, adopted an approach in which they tried to look smart at all cost. Mistakes were signs of deficiencies. Mistakes were glossed over with little effort to correct them. Hard work was seen as evidence of low ability. On the other hand, students with a Growth mindset accepted and confronted their deficiencies, worked hard and were persistent when taking on challenges.

Dweck reported that Mindset became particularly important as students made the transition from Grade 6 to Grade 7, that is, from primary to secondary school. At this point the work gets harder. The school environment is less personalised and nurturing. At this point students encounter deficiencies in knowledge and difficulties in learning new material. Many students with the Fixed Mindset get derailed, while many with the Growth mindset prevail and progress.

One important conclusion drawn by Dweck is that the Growth Mindset can be cultivated and developed. One way of doing this is to praise students more for processes they employed in obtaining grades than for the grades themselves. Praise for strategy, effort, concentration and persistence work wonders.

The critical question is, why does the Growth Mindset work? Why do students at the primary level with lower marks than some of their peers proceed to do much better at the secondary level than their seemingly brighter peers? The Growth Mindset works through two principal mechanisms. First, the Growth Mindset works through the well documented mechanism of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It declares a state that does not yet exist and then works hard and persistently to bring that state to past. Secondly, it works through the truth that the more you learn the smarter you become about the thing of which you are learning. Increasingly, brain research and cognitive science is revealing that as we continue to learn the brain makes more connections that facilitate more and better learning. In other words, intelligence is not fixed. You can become smarter through effort and hard work.

By contrast, the Fixed Mindset does not work because it is based on the falsehood that intelligence is a fixed quantity that we receive and cannot be increased. As important, the Fixed Mindset promotes fatalism by implying that hurdles encountered in learning are indications of the limit of intelligence.

Hopefully I have established that Mindsets are important. They can make the difference between success and failure, at least in education. Having been cautious in the inference drawn from the work of Professor Carol Dweck, allow me to make a bold generalisation from the broader literature on Mindsets. Generally speaking, mindsets that embody fatalism, pessimism, luck, and dependence have a high coefficient of failure built into them. In contrast, Mindsets that foster optimism, hard work and persistence, have a high coefficient of accomplishment built into them. 

An important question is how are mindsets formed and cultivated?  Mindsets are formed through some combination of the languages we speak and their codification of reality, the activities in which the communities in which we live are engaged, the belief systems to which we subscribe, the histories of the people from which we spring and the culture we practice.

(Gladwell 2008) in his book Outliers published in 2008 cites the fact that up to 1999 Korean Air had an atrocious record of plane crashes. Two major carriers suspended their partnerships with Korean Air. The FAA downgraded its safety record. The US Army forbade its personnel from flying with the airline. The Canadian authorities warned Korean Air that it was considering revoking the company’s over-flight and landing privileges in Canada. Exhaustive investigation revealed that communication in the cockpit and not any mechanical problems was the major cause of the crashes. At the heart of the problem was the fact that Korean first officers and flight engineers could not forcefully tell their captains or air traffic controllers in the control towers that they were not doing the correct thing when confronted with emergencies. Korean culture pays enormous attention to the relative social standing of any two persons in a conversation. It is highly differential to social superiors and authority figures. Korean language has no fewer than six different levels of conversational address based on the rank of the person being addressed and on the social standing of the person making the address. While this makes for a very polite and orderly society, it is disastrous in the cockpit when emergencies arise and pilots or navigators have to tell their captains or air traffic controllers in direct, terse and even colourful terms that errors they have made must be corrected immediately. 

Confronted with this situation Korean Air did not fire its pilots. Rather, it brought in experts to retrain them by re-setting their mindset with respect to relations in the cockpit and with the control towers. A critical strategy employed was to change the language used in the cockpit from Korean to English. All pilots were required to be proficient in English. This gave all concerned an alternative identity in the cockpit and allowed for the development of ways of relating to each other and to air traffic controllers that are appropriate to international aviation. Since 1999 Korean Air has had a safety record as good as any airline in the world. Further, many former first officers and flight engineers of Korean Air now fly for other airlines with great success.

The point to note is that mindsets can arise from a multiplicity of sources. However, irrespective of their sources of origin they can be altered and changed. Mindsets can be fostered, cultivated and transformed.


 Mindset is created and constructed within a social context. The defining features of the social context called the Caribbean are key factors in understanding Mindsets commonly found in the region.

Contradictions and cross-currents are inherent in all aspects of human existence, whether at the level of the individual or the level of community. The present is lived and the future is constructed in the cross-currents of conservation and change of past patterns. No individual or community is either completely static or totally transformed at any point in time. Inherent in these cross-currents and contradictions are tensions that are unresolved, and probably impossible to resolve, on any permanent basis. It is these unresolved tensions, embedded in the very fabric of human social organisation that provide the dynamic of social intercourse as successive generations confront the substance of these contradictions.

In my view there are six contradictions that together constitute the most salient defining societal features of the Caribbean, (Miller 1998). They are:

  • Immigrant mainstreams
  • Dominant minorities and marginal majorities
  • Modern societies of modest means 
  • Cultural cradle on the economic periphery
  • Common history, identity and destiny punctuated with insularity
  • The creative folk and the conforming intelligencia.

A brief comment is necessary on each of these.

Immigrant Mainstreams

The vast majority of the peoples now forming the mainstreams of Caribbean societies arrived in the region over the last four hundred years. Viewed against the period of recorded history, they are all immigrants. In most parts of the world immigrants are minority groups. The converse obtains in the Caribbean.  Immigrants of the last four hundred years constitute the vast majority and mainstream of Caribbean societies. While this is a feature shared with North and South America it exists almost to an extreme in the Caribbean.

This defining societal feature of the Caribbean translates into three very important social characteristics.

  1. There is very little connection between Caribbean antiquity and contemporary Caribbean societies. Caribbean societies are new societies with very few direct connections to any ancestral past in the region.
  2. The pre-eminence of intentional, conscious and deliberate actions taken by the different groups of Old World peoples in establishing themselves in these new Caribbean societies. The current buzz word of the conscious mind at work in the Caribbean is that of transformation. Everybody is talking about transformation and transformative leadership
  3. There is a primordial sense of belonging elsewhere and an expedient notion of belonging in and to the Caribbean. Caribbean societies have been constructed with a combination of a primordial sense of belonging to Europe, Africa and Asia and adjustments of Europeans, Africans and Asians to the Caribbean location. Caribbean perception and evaluation of worth are invariably marked by an external dimension as phenomena are perceived and assessed in relation to Europe or Africa or India or China and more recently North America. Probably, as a result of this sense of belonging elsewhere Caribbean Mindsets are probably more international in their conceptions than most other peoples of the world. The corollary to this is that Caribbean Mindsets are prone to view Caribbean creations negatively. Caribbean people residing outside of the region may have a more articulate and self-conscious understanding of what it means to be Caribbean that those residing inside the region without exposure to the world beyond. Nationalism has been the movement that has confronted the issue of belonging to the Caribbean in the most direct and transparent manner. Even then, nationalism has not been able to completely override the sense of belonging elsewhere.

Dominant Minorities and Marginal Majorities

Dominant groups and ruling elites are usually nested within majority groups in societies across the world. Accordingly, dominant groups are largely invisible. Similarly, minorities are usually marginal and visible by virtue of the differences in gross features with the majority group. Caribbean societies turn these patterns on their heads. Dominant elites in the Caribbean have been visible minorities while the majority groups have been marginalized.

This defining feature of the Caribbean has had profound implications for power relations. Dominant groups in Caribbean have suffered from many of the vulnerabilities of visible minorities, while marginal groups have been empowered by virtue of numbers and security that come with majority. The power of the dominant groups therefore has been constrained and contained by their minority position. Likewise, the subordination of the marginal groups has been mitigated and ameliorated by their majority status. This has set in train fascinating contradictory power relationships in the form of diverse coalitions between segments of the dominant elites and sections of subordinate groups as well as ingenious bases for justifying the status quo or resistance and rebellion.

For example, in the era in which political power has passed to the marginal majority, through adult suffrage, the latter has not chosen their leaders directly from among themselves, apart from rare exceptions. They have chosen leaders who have either been from a particular category of the visible minorities or from those members of their group who have risen in social rank to levels equivalent to that of the dominant visible minorities.

Another dimension of the dominant minority and marginal majority contradiction is that the ideology justifying the status quo is premised on the inferiority of the majority and its converse the superiority of the minority. An example of this is the perennial overestimation of levels of illiteracy in Caribbean populations and use of illiteracy as the justification of the various inequalities that are evident in the Caribbean societies. The roots of this insistence have been justification of the status quo and the practice of blaming the victim of social inequality on the basis of an assumed inferiority.

Yet another dimension of the juxtaposition of visible dominant minorities and marginal majorities is fear and violence as almost endemic ingredients of social relations and social intercourse. The dominant minority fears for their physical survival and in turn uses fear to seek to ensure their survival. Likewise is the marginal majority proneness to use violence or its threat as means of ameliorating their marginality.  Structural and physical violence therefore co-mingle as elements within the power and social relations and spill over into Mindsets, patterns of thought, actions and modes of analyses that are often articulated in apocalyptic terms. 

Modern Societies of Modest Means

Caribbean societies are modern societies of modest means. To put it bluntly the modernity of Caribbean societies is not matched by the economic means normally associated with modernity. The poles of the transformation from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’ societies can be set out succinctly as follows:

  1. From societies organized on the basis of tribe, clan, lineage, caste and family to societies organized on the basis of voluntary institutions such as school, church, political party, trade union, company, civil service and clubs.
  2. From societies in which the basic unit of social organization was the kinship collective, to societies organized on the individual as the basic unit.
  3. From rights in people held by the kinship collectives to which they belong to rights of individuals enshrined in constitutional law.
  4. From the purpose of life being the perpetuation of the lineage, to individual material progress being the benchmark of success and fulfillment.
  5. From government predicated on descent from a royal lineage to government by consent of the citizens who hold sovereign power.
  6. From kingdoms premised on patriarchal structures to nations predicated on utopian values.

On each one of these continua, Caribbean societies are firmly located toward the modern pole. Caribbean history has been dominated by institutions such as the church, the company especially the plantation, the political party, the school and the trade union and not by tribes, clans or castes.

From this analysis one would say that Caribbean societies are located at the very forefront of the transformation from traditional to modern forms. However, it is without the financial means associated with social modernity.

A Cultural Cradle on the Economic Periphery

The Caribbean virtually embodies all the cultural contradictions manifested in the hemisphere.  These contradictions are best established by comparison with the rest of the hemisphere.

English-speaking North America has practiced the Anglo versions of Western European culture with virtually no accommodation to culture of the earliest Americans whom Columbus, in a quandary concerning his location, mistakenly called Indians. In the rest of continental America, from Mexico to Chile, the Iberian version of Western European culture has prevailed. However, the Iberian version of Western culture has been much more accommodating of the culture of the first Americans. With the exception of Argentina, and Chile to a lesser extent, the major characteristics of Latin America have been the amalgamation of Iberian culture with that of cultures of the Aztecs, Mayan and the Incas. The resulting mestizo culture is a major component of what is generally referred to as Latin American.

It is common to speak of North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. This is because the Hemisphere of the Americas the Caribbean is an addendum. The Caribbean shares with the rest of the Americas the historical dominance of Western European culture. However, with the exceptions of Belize, Guyana, Dominica and St Vincent, the culture of the first Americans is almost non-existent. Unlike Latin America there is no equivalent of the mestizo culture. At the same time the intersection and interactions of the various versions of Western European cultures with the cultures of Africa and Asia have resulted in a Creole Caribbean culture that is neither European, nor African nor Asian. In a real sense Caribbean Creole culture is the most inclusive, cosmopolitan and broadly based culture within the Americas in terms of its synthesis of elements drawn from numerous cultural variants from three Old World Continents from which the people came.

The emerging Caribbean culture is to be contrasted with the openness and vulnerability of the very small economies of the countries that comprise the region. There is absolutely no need to mount a strong argument on the premise that Caribbean economies are on the periphery of the hemisphere and the world. Their location on the periphery of the global economy is beyond dispute. Within the Hemisphere the Caribbean is an addendum.

A Common History and Shared Culture Constrained by Insularity

Yet another defining contradiction of the Caribbean is its common history and shared culture punctuated by the insularity of so many island countries. The co-incidence of geographic, political and linguistic borders superimposed by the island geography of the region, as small land masses dot the vast expanse of the Caribbean Sea, facilitates insularity and parochial thinking. In continental America Belize and Guyana are isolated by virtue of culture.

While the region is invariably confronted with common external stimuli, the discreteness and separateness of the different countries almost always evoke different responses. This paradox between common stimuli but divergence in response confers upon the Caribbean the closest approximation to a naturally occurring social laboratory. At the same time, this poses enormous challenges to any movement towards Caribbean integration.

The Creative Folk and the Conforming Intelligencia

Almost everything that defines the Caribbean in terms of food, music, language, dance and folklore has been the creations of its folk. Further, the most creative and divergent postures in thought have come from among the lesser schooled sections of the society. Conversely, that the most conforming ways of thought have come from the highly schooled segments of the society.

The contrast being drawn here can be highlighted by the fact that affirmative forms of resistance to Western ideology and its assertions of superiority have come in their most strident and eloquent terms from among those segments of the populations, and from persons, not numbered among the most schooled in the region. This is true whether one is reviewing Marcus Garvey and the UNIA, or the founders of Rastafarianism, or the creators and chief exponents of Calypso and Reggae, or Dance Hall.

On the other hand, the most schooled in the Caribbean have been far more accepting of the dominant Western ethos. In this regard, it is necessary to recognize two differing forms of conformity. The first is characterized by an almost uncritical embrace of the truisms of Western Enlightenment to the point of regarding Western civilization as the terminus of human social history and the destiny of all other societies. The modern hero is Western enlightened man civilizing the rest of the world.

The second embraces resisting forms of affirmation of the West like Marxism and Post-Modernism which have seduced some of our most brilliant minds. Even in asserting the demise of the modernity project, the decadence and bankruptcy of the modernity, the exploitative aspects of capitalism and its demise, both Marxism and post modernism clearly point to the superiority of the industrialized West. Even in decadence, Western societies are portrayed as the most advanced societies in the world with no rivals to challenge their superiority.


There are a number of major trends that were evident in the twentieth century that will certainly continue in the twenty-first century. These are:

  1. Globalisation and regionalisation
  2. Increase in knowledge and the growth on the knowledge society
  3. Application of technology to more aspects of life and society
  4. Materialism and consumerism
  5. The concentration of power and wealth in fewer hands even though empowerment and prosperity for all are preached on a daily basis.

The current financial and economic crisis points to a new major trend that is emerging. (Zakaria 2008) takes the position that the financial and economic crises of 2008/2009 is simply highlighting and accelerating a phenomenon that has been occurring for at least a decade, namely the rise of the rest and the decline of the West. The outsourcing of manufacturing to China and technology services to India, the dependence on oil from the Middle East particularly Saudi Arabia, and the innovations in countries like Brazil and South Korea have led not only to a buildup of capital reserves in those countries but to lifting millions of the citizens of those countries out of poverty and substantial growth in their middle classes. This is in contrast to the West in which the middle classes are in decline.

The significance of these developments to the Caribbean is that the Caribbean has been part of the West for the last four hundred years. All the defining features of the West are stamped into Caribbean realities. To name a few:

  • Christianity
  • Democracy
  • The rule of law
  • Institutions of good governance
  • Private property
  • Strong civil society
  • Double-entry book keeping and dividends.
  • Attire

The point that must not be missed is that being modern societies of lesser means Caribbean countries started the descent into debt before the Western industrialized countries. There are several Caribbean countries in which the public debt was more that 100 per cent of GDP even before this current recession began. Put another way, for some time the Caribbean has been going down the Western path of producing less than it is earning, living beyond its means and using debt to balance the budget. In large measure aid flows and loans from Western donor agencies and remittances from Caribbean nationals living in the West have played significant roles in financing the gap between earnings and expenditure.

Let there be no mistake, Caribbean countries have done well for themselves in their relationship with the West over the last fifty years. Allow me to illustrate this point with reference to data from the Survey of Living Conditions of St Kitts and Nevis 2007, (Kairi 2008).

  • In St Kitts 99.3 per cent and in Nevis 92.7 per cent use electricity as their main source of lighting.
  • 97.4 per cent of households in St Kitts and Nevis had access to piped water.
  • 85.4 per cent of households in St Kitts and Nevis had piped water for seven days in the week prior to the Survey and this was about the same across all Quintiles of consumption.
  • 91.3 per cent of homes in St Kitts and 88.3 per cent of homes in Nevis are fitted with indoor toilets.
  • 93.5 per cent of household have their own kitchen, toilet and water facilities.
  • 97.3 per cent of households in St Kitts and Nevis use gas/LPG/cooking gas or electricity for cooking.
  • In St Kitts 76.4 per cent of houses have concrete walls and 12.0 have walls of concrete and wood and the comparable figures for Nevis are 58.1 and 20.8 per cent respectively.
  • In the Kitts and Nevis 69 per cent of households owned their homes: 43.1 per cent without mortgage and 25.9 per cent with mortgages. In the lowest Quintile of consumption 56.8 per cent of households owned their homes.
  • In St Kitts and Nevis 3.8 per cent admitted to rent-free living: 3.3 per cent in the lowest Quintile and 3.3 per cent in the highest Quintile. Only 1.3 per cent of the lowest Quintile reported squatting and 1.0 in houses rented from the Government.
  • Primary health care is accessible to all. Secondary health care is available free of cost to children of school age and for persons 62 years or older. The rest of the population pay approximately 10 per cent of the cost.
  • Unemployment was recorded as 5.1 per cent.
  • Life expectancy is 70.1 years.
  • Free primary and secondary education is available to all children of school age.
  • St Kitts and Nevis ranks 49 on the United Nations Development Index with respect to meeting the basic human needs of its population.

With respect to education, it is important to note that St Kitts and Nevis has had free universal secondary education since 1968. It is among the countries that send the highest proportion of its age cohort to CSEC and one of the countries that consistently ranks in the top 5 in terms of student performance. Currently students from St Kitts and Nevis pass between 75 to 80 per cent of all subjects sat. With respect to the economy St Kitts and Nevis has made the transition from being a sugar plantation economy to being a service economy. The last sugar factory was closed in 2004. With respect to governance like other Caribbean countries St Kitts and Nevis is a two party democracy that has repeatedly changed governments. Indeed, the achievements of the country over the last 50 years cannot be attributed to any one political party but must be seen as the accomplishment of the country as a whole.

In terms of food, shelter, utilities, education, health and employment St Kitts and Nevis has been living at First World standards rounded off by living in a Caribbean climate. Notwithstanding the socio-economic progress that these data imply there have been worrying signs within the society. Drugs and the involvement in the drug trade have become manifest. Violence, especially among young men, has been on a steady rise. Hopelessness is becoming evident. The 2007 Living Condition survey reveal that many school leavers with the requisite SCES passes have been joining the ranks of the working poor. The Survey classified 23 per cent of people in St Kitts and 15 per cent in Nevis as being poor. In interviews the majority of persons classified as poor by the Survey rejected that classification. They insisted that a better description of their situation was the term ‘catching hell’.

But even the socio-economic progress made by the country is currently at risk with the economic downturn. St Kitts and Nevis is heavily indebted. At the end of 2008 public debt stood at 177 per cent of GDP. The borrowing option therefore has been exhausted. The educational remedies with the exception of rapid expansion of higher education have already been applied with good success. The migration option has been heavily used. St Kitts and Nevis has one of the lowest increases of population over the twentieth century because of migration. Remittances have suffered with the financial and economic crisis.

To a greater or lesser degree the situation of St Kitts and Nevis is illustrative of the situation in the entire Commonwealth Caribbean. As countries, we have taken for granted and not sufficiently appreciated the socioeconomic progress that was made in the latter half of the twentieth century. Competitive politics with its perennial cycle of blame of the government and promise by the opposition has masked the true cost of this progress. Like the West we in the Caribbean have thought that payment could be made by future generations through continuous and uninterrupted economic growth. The current recession has unmasked the cost and laid bare the falsehood of the continuous economic growth assumption.

By itself the decline of the West and the rise of the rest have little to offer the Caribbean in the long-term. The decline of the West means that the Caribbean will have far less to gain in the future from all its traditional economic and aid relationships with North America and Western Europe largely because these blocks will be challenged by their own circumstances. While the rise of the rest may offer some tourism prospects the fact is that there are several idyllic locations closer to the Far East and Russia than the Caribbean. In terms of proximity Brazil may be a good prospect. Also aid and assistance from these rising economic powers are very likely to come with people. With large numbers of their own people in need of upward social mobility opportunities it is very likely that such aid and assistance will come with far more people at all levels of occupational spectrum that was true of similar assistance from the West.

What is abundantly clear is that the Caribbean in the twenty-first century must make its way in the world in a manner that is fundamentally different from the past. Almost all of the paradigms, preferential relationships and processes that were spawned in colonial times are either obsolete or dying or waiting on the people holding on to them to die, an example of the latter being the British Privy Council as the final court of appeal of the Caribbean jurisdiction. The fallacy of the development paradigm spawned in the post-independence period has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. The essence of the development paradigm was that the rest of the world would become like the powerful Western countries through imitation of their methods, their money through grants and loans, and being guided by their manpower. The truth is that both the developed countries and their closest disciples, among whom the Caribbean is numbered, are now staring under-development in the face. The road ahead in the next decade of the twenty first century is going to be rough.


Education is principally about mobilizing people of diverse and disparate backgrounds to construct a common future. Education does its work through the creation of identity, fostering bonds that bind students and teachers to institutions, promoting solidarity, building group cohesiveness and engendering a shared sense of destiny. Education requires institutional structure because it accomplishes its goals across generations as individuals build upon the work done by those who preceded them. If we understand education in these terms then education shares in the credit for socioeconomic advancement that has been achieved in the Caribbean over the last 50 years and is also implicated in the predicament into which the region now finds itself.

Over the last fifty years the major goals and emphases of post independent education across the Caribbean were:

  1. The development of nationals: Jamaicans, Barbadians, Belizeans, St Lucians, Bahamians, Guyanese, Grenadians etc.
  2. The promise of upward social mobility and material progress through education
  3. Making a living.
  4. The acquisition of knowledge in the core and other subject areas.
  5. The competent performance of various skills.
  6. Credentials that are recognized and accepted internationally

One of my reasons for citing the case of St Kitts and Nevis is because this country has already achieved most of the goals cited as failings of the education system of Jamaica, yet that country has not been spared the same challenges now confronting Jamaica. I could have cited Barbados to the same end. Barbados provides all children with good early childhood education and primary education. Barbados has had universal secondary education since 1976. The level of illiteracy is very low. Barbados now offers free tertiary education to a much larger proportion of its population than Jamaica. Yet Barbados, like St Kitts and Nevis and Jamaica are confronted with the same challenges.

Do not get me wrong. Jamaica has some catching up to do both in the area of the quantity and quality of the education provided to its population. At the beginning of the twentieth century Jamaica and Barbados led the region in provision of education (Benavot 1988). Over the course of that century Jamaica did not keep pace with Barbados in the investment made in education. However, the point that I am making is that the major challenge facing Caribbean education is not one of either quantity of quality at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels. The point is that the main challenge is not so much more or better education but rather a major revision of its goals and emphases.

Revamping the Goals and Emphases of Caribbean Education

It is necessary to sketch the broad outlines of the orientation, outlook and understanding that Caribbean peoples need to have in order to deal with the changed world that is on the horizon. Without attempting to be either comprehensive or exhaustive the following are some of the understandings, orientation and outlooks that Caribbean education must convey:

  1. Understanding that Caribbean countries are small, marginal and vulnerable states existing in a global constellation of states in which powerful states will always seek their own advantage, and that adaptive advantage and survival resides as a collective of Caribbean states and not as independent entities each seeking its own salvation.
  2. Understanding that a common destiny is being imposed by geopolitical and hemispheric imperatives upon the twelve independent English-speaking countries, Suriname and Haiti. These fourteen states are grouped together when harsh realities are faced and hard decisions are made about this hemispheric addendum called the Caribbean.
  3. Understanding that the Caribbean is not only a place but also a people with a unique knowledge of the common humanity of all human kind, an emerging civilization with its own distinctive and authentic culture and therefore with the responsibility to confront the challenges of contemporary society within the framework of its own knowledge, wisdom and creativity.
  4. Accepting that the mission of this and succeeding generations is to continue to foster, nurture and build the emerging Caribbean civilization and in so doing resolve the institutionalized injustices and brutality that are part of our legacy and to continue to develop just and humane patterns of relationships.
  5. Understanding that the advancement of the region depends upon the development of the talents and abilities of its people and the acceptance of its people to honour the sacrifices made by their countries to develop their talents.
  6. Recognizing that financial independence can only come through earning our way in the world through the quality of the goods we produce; the excellence of the services that we offer; the ecstasy of the entertainment we provide; constraining consumption within the limits of our earning; paying down the debts owed; and putting aside savings that hedge against the proverbial rainy day.
  7. Embracing the new information and communication technologies and the emerging social and knowledge networks as means of bridging the expanses of water that separate Caribbean peoples at all levels and in all spheres in order to build the social capital which is the foundation of functional cooperation.
  8. Fostering systematic communication, interaction, exchange and mentoring relations between Caribbean people living in the region and elsewhere in the world in order to build relationships, share knowledge, maintain connections, broaden horizons, promote solidarity and make contacts.
  9. Developing the expertise and infrastructure to live in the Caribbean and access and undertake work anywhere in the world and to carve out a niche around Caribbean strengths in creativity, problem solving, crisis management and hospitality.
  10. Conserving and continuing to enhance the traditions of democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, individual right, and social responsibilities, especially those emerging in the post-independent period.

In contrasting the major goals and emphases of the past fifty years against the messages that Caribbean education must now convey at least two conclusions become clear. First, the emphases of the acquisition of knowledge, the development of skills and the issuing of education credentials that are internationally recognized and accepted should continue and be enhanced. Second, the goals and emphases of producing nationals, of promising students material progress and of preparing students to make a living need to be revisited, revised and redeemed. Some comment is required on each of these.

Revisit Nationality and Caribbean Identity

There is no question that in the post independence era nationalism and nationalistic education has also spread awareness of the Caribbean. It is now common to speak of each nation and the Caribbean in the same breath or of Caribbean nations. However, commitment to the Caribbean is largely as a matter of expedience or convenience but not one of principle. For example, in business the Caribbean is conceptualized largely as a source of exploitation in service of national aspirations. Examples abound of countries seeking commercial advantage by gaining access for its goods, services and people to other countries within the region while at the same time resisting, restricting and resenting similar access from other countries into their country. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy, CSME, has stalled and been stymied on this account. In legal arrangements the Caribbean is seem as inferior as several countries, led by Jamaica, continue the anachronistic and outmoded relations with the British Privy Council as the final authority in Caribbean jurisprudence. In the regulation of tertiary education one United States Official recently commented that the region is back to the days of the pirates and the buccaneers with respect to the plethora of offshore institutions operating in various countries with little or no restrictions. At the primary and secondary levels children of parents without immigration papers are not admitted to schools in some countries. The point is that while CXC, UWI, the CARICOM Secretariat and, should I say, West Indies cricket, are examples of Caribbean commitment the journey in becoming a Caribbean community is still in its early stages. Further, progress requires deliberate, systematic and sustained mobilization of Caribbean peoples toward this end.

In this regard there is no greater priority than the development of a Mindset that:

  • Places the Caribbean identity on par with national identity.
  • Works for the common destiny of the region as a whole and not just of any one nation.
  • Looks first inside the Caribbean before looking elsewhere.
  • Understands and prize Caribbean distinctive, value Caribbean creations and knows that marginality in military and economic might in no way determine what Caribbean peoples can become.
  • Sees and seizes the opportunities offered by each crisis the region faces to advance Caribbean solidarity and cooperation

The development of this aspect of the Caribbean Mindset can draw up two resources and certain future adversities to foster and nurture its emergence. The first generation of Caribbean Diaspora around the world has a keener sense of a Caribbean identity and aspects of the Mindset that most of us living in the region and therefore can become a great resource. Information and communication technology is another such resource. It should be mandatory that all schools, colleges, universities and non-formal educational organizations within the region that have internet access establish on-line links through social networks, learning centres etc with other such entities across the Caribbean. Virtue interaction can become a critical step in making the connections that must become realities of the future.

Adversities through natural disasters, economic and financial crises, social and political emergencies are certainties in the Caribbean in the twenty-first century. Each such happening will have potential opportunities to advance Caribbean identity, solidarity and a sense of belonging. This potential will be particularly great with such countries that for reason of short term advantage decided to go it alone or to say outside of regional arrangements. The opportunities presented by each such adversity should be fully embraced.

Revising the Promise of Material Progress

It would be difficult for anyone to sustain with empirical evidence the position that Caribbean countries in the last fifty years have defaulted on promise of expanding the quantity and improving the quality of early childhood, primary and secondary education. At the same time a strong argument can be sustained that over the last twenty years, increasingly Caribbean economies have been defaulting on the promise of upward social mobility and material progress to growing numbers of educated young people. Increasingly, young people who have strived for and obtained CXCs, ‘A’ levels, CAPE, Associate Degrees and Degrees are finding it difficult to obtain employment, or getting jobs that they really want and then not earn the salaries they expected. These young people have been given no little or no preparation for this possibility. The disappointment resulting from this situation is a source for the growing hopelessness among young people, a worrying sign of the de-linking education as the principal route of escape from persistent poverty and a seedbed for the increasing violence by young men.

The fact is that autonomous Caribbean education continues to produce more talent than dependent Caribbean economies have been able to absorb. Further, Caribbean people have never accepted that their ambitions through education should be limited to what Caribbean economies can provided. Then again, Caribbean education has met international standards at much lower per capita costs than the self-styled developed countries. The fact is that Caribbean education is driven by internal imperatives of students, teachers and parents. Caribbean economies, on the other hand, are externally dependent. As a result they are very vulnerable to the vagaries of global political economy. We need to go no further than the current recession and economic crisis to illustrate this fact. greed and abuse of trust on Wall Street, lax regulation by US Authorities, the assumption that future growth in earnings would pay for mortgages and the illusion that credit risk could be spread and shared to avoid collapse all combined to bring down the housing market, the banking system and send economies into recession resulting in the loss of millions of jobs worldwide and starvation in some countries. Caribbean workers, taxpayers and Governments are all paying although they had not part or lot in this folly. The scene of over 3000 applicants turning up recently for 100 entry level jobs in the Fire Service, many with university degrees, just highlights the point being made.

The great irony of this situation is that the mindset that has begun to emerge among many young people and others is that it is education and the country that has failed young people. Nothing could be further from the truth. With all the flaws and difficulties, Caribbean countries have done well by giving these young people a good education. Without a good education their prospects would be even dimmer than having an education but not immediately finding the jobs or earning the income that they expected. The real problem is that the countries promised material progress that they cannot guarantee because of their dependent economies.

The nationalist mentality and the development mindset are no better in addressing the reality and complexity of the relationship between Caribbean education, Caribbean economies and means by which Caribbean peoples can effectively cope and advance in present circumstances. Moreover, the nationalist mentality and development mindset continue to dominate policy making and officialdom. There is great global demand for teachers, nurses, doctors, medical technologist, engineers, electricians, plumbers, mason and other artisans, specialists in information and communication technology and a host of other areas in which the Caribbean has proven capacity to produce professionals, technicians and artisans.  But in most countries those education and training capacities continue to be limited to what is forecasted as national needs. When persons trained in these areas access opportunities abroad it is interpreted as brain drain and there is great lamentation over the funds spent on their education and training. Some governments have enacted punitive measures to discourage ‘brain drain’. Not even the growing size and importance of remittances from Caribbean nationals working aboard have been able to alter the policies of only providing education and training capacity for national manpower needs.

But it is not only the nationalist mentality and development mindset that are obsolete but still at work. Take the example that in many schools and among some parents there is the view that if the child has not been doing well in secondary school they should be given technical and vocational training. In other words, if children are not good with their heads they should be made to work with their hands. This is obsolete 19th century thinking. We now know that the brain controls both head and hand. Further, in an age in which technology is the great driver of wealth creation we are channeling many of our most able students away from technology. Further, some of those who are channeled into technical and vocational education and have mastered the skills taught in those areas end up without the general education that allows them to be certified at the level which they deserve. Moreover, in today’s world of exploding knowledge and smart machines, early specialization is a backward approach. Indeed, general education in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences, Computer Studies and Foreign Language is the best vocational preparation, since higher levels of general education offer greater foundation in whatever area of specialization that students undertake.

Then again displayed on a daily basis in the media and on public platforms is the traditional superiority mindset of Caribbean ruling elites that habitually decry the poor standard of education of young people, regularly blame illiteracy of the population for all kinds of societal ills and routinely justify the status quo on these grounds. This mindset adamantly refuses to take account of hard empirical data. But let me cite some of these data anyway. Jamaica has done six literacy surveys of the population 15 years and old since 1964, the last one being done in 1999/2000. Each one of these surveys has shown that the 15 to 24 year age cohort, that is the cohort most recent out of school, to be the most literate age cohort in the population and the age cohort 60 years and older to be the most illiterate. The hard evidence from these data is that literacy in increasing not declining. Forty five years later the 15 to 24 age cohort in 1964 is now among the most illiterate in 2009, that age cohort now being 60 to 69.

In 1949 in Jamaica 1,251 students sat English Language in Senior Cambridge, 25 per cent passed at the standard now accepted as a pass in CSEC.  In 2009 over 35,000 students sat English A in CSEC and 52 per cent passed. It should not take a genius at Mathematics to see that secondary school student performance in English Language has improved over the last 60 years.

The fact is that the emerging mindset that the countries have failed the young people, the nationalist mentality, the development mindset, nineteenth century thinking about the relationship between head and hand, and the superiority mindset of ruling elites are compounding the difficulties and distorting the realities resulting from autonomous education systems operating within the context of externally dependent economies. A new mindset has to be developed if this reality is to be constructively addressed to the benefit for Caribbean people.

Elements of the mindset that is needed to constructively deal with the situation includes:

  • Understanding that the best Caribbean countries can do for their people is to provide them with an education that has currency internationally.
  • Understanding that obtaining education credentials may not immediately lead to socio-economic advances and that there is need for both patience and a sense of process in pursuing material advancement.
  • Understanding that job and entrepreneurial opportunities have to be pursued not only nationally but regionally and globally, hence proficiency is foreign languages is a necessity.
  • Accepting that building new industries around Caribbean talent in education, health sciences, music, sports and entertainment is to be preferred to direct foreign investment in areas that will create few jobs
  • Recognizing that alliances and arrangements similar to the farm work and hotel workers programmes need to be designed and developed for teachers, doctors, nurses, skilled artisans and ICT professionals and technicians. Of necessity this would involve increased capacity for training beyond national needs.
  • Knowing that success in education is not a sign of superiority but the result of sacrifice which brings with it the obligation to give back to the community that made the sacrifice.

Redeeming the Value System

There can be no gainsaying that making a living is an important goal. However, making a living has become such a preeminent goal that the end is widely regarded as justifying all means to achieve it. The mindset now driving this goal has re-phrased it to be making a living by fair means if possible and foul means if necessary. This mindset is by no means confined to the Caribbean. It is evident across the world. However, it is particularly demoralizing, debilitating and destructive where marginal groups or countries are struggling to withstand the prerogatives of the powerful.

Examples of this mindset at work are rampant:

  • Ministers of Government, politicians and their henchmen becoming wealthy while the constituents who elected them remain poor.
  • Civil servants guilty of profiting from the programmes they administer
  • Directors and employees of companies and corporation advancing their compensation and benefits at the expense of shareholders and customers
  • Union leaders demanding kickbacks from the workers they represent
  • Principals and teachers managing schools for their own convenience regardless of the impact on their students
  • Clubs and societies are capturing the leadership and running these entities for their interest and not that of the membership.
  • University and college students who borrow revolving student loans not repaying the loans after graduation so that other students can benefit.
  • Pastors and preachers advancing their material well being at the expense of their congregations
  • Dons organizing extortion schemes from which they distribute handouts to their communities that do not care about how the largesse was obtained.
  • Individuals flaunting wealth without any visible means by which it was acquired.

These abuses of power, position and physical strength betray trust. The consequences are dire and destructive. Causes are compromised. Movements are corrupted. Authority is corroded. Leadership at all levels is cast under a cloud. Wrong is justified on the basis that everyone is doing it. Cynicism prevails. Integrity is at a premium. Structural and physical violence or both are very much in evidence. Malaise and stagnation is the order of the day.

Such circumstances can only be redeemed by change to a mindset that embraces a value system that see further than personal success and well being; answers to a higher authority; finds meaning in efforts to advance community, country and region; draws inspiration from the public good; and is fulfilled by service beyond self.


The substance of my argument is that the individualistic mindset that only focus on personal achievement and gain and that is so widespread is a sure recipe of decay, decline and destruction of Caribbean societies. The mindset that is focused upon individual and immediate community stands a somewhat better chance. One that integrates individuality, community and country further increases chances but is still insufficient. The best hope of the Caribbean as marginal countries to survive in the twenty-first century is through a mindset that incorporates personal, community, country and Caribbean well being.

To foster and to promote such a mindset it is necessary to deconstruct legacy mindsets from colonialism that still persist as well as some newer mindsets constructed and fostered over the last fifty years. Bob Marley refers to this deconstruction process by the exhortation to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery”. Whether we call this process deconstruction and reconstruction of mindsets or emancipation from mental slavery, it will take generations. This is why it is an urgent mission and task of education that has to be sustained for several decades of the twenty first century. Some of the mindsets to be replaced were developed over centuries and some over the last fifty years. The transformed mindset cannot therefore be produced overnight.

The scope and time limitations of this Lecture have not allowed me to deal with the target except to say that the development of the mindset of which I speak cannot only be confined to the early childhood, primary, secondary, college and university system. It needs to be part of all learning systems, formal and non-formal, and include all who engage in learning in the countries. Neither have I addressed the technical and infrastructure issues. This is because in the Caribbean we have experts in psychology, curriculum development and instructional design who can fashion and shape the teaching and learning systems that can achieve the desired objectives. Also the standard educational infrastructure is in place and the on-line infrastructure is being put in place by initiatives such as the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, CKLN.

The real issue is one of leadership. The question is to whose lot does the charge fall to lead and sustain by effort, inspiration and example education for a Caribbean Mindset for the twenty-first century? In my view this lots falls to teachers who profess faith across the region especially to those who profess to be followers of Jesus the Christ. That is those of us who subscribe to the Proverb that ‘as a man thinketh in his heart so is he’; who are challenged by Paul to be transformed in the renewing of our minds and to let the mind of Christ be in us. Simply put, it is translating into contemporary times at the place in which we reside the practical outworking of our faith in the vocation to which we have been called.

This is to follow the life and work of Eric Downie who sacrificially on a daily basis sought to inspire in his students and colleagues the mindset appropriate for his time. God grant us the courage, wisdom and grace to take the baton and carry on the task of transformation of the mind so that it is appropriate to the Caribbean context.


Benavot, A. and Riddle, Phyllis (1988). “The Expansion of Primary Education, 1870-1940: Trends and Issues.” Sociology of Education 61(July): 191-210.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, Random House.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, Boston and London, Little, Brown and Company.

Kairi (2008). Country Poverty Assessment St Kitts and Nevis 2007/08. Tunapuna Trinidad. Volume 1 Survey of Living Conditions.

Miller, E. (1998). Defining the Caribbean by Some of its Contradictions: 12 pages, Unpublished paper.

Smith, D. (2008). “How to Have a Millionaire Mindset.” Ezine Articles, from

Zakaria, F. (2008). The Post-American World. New York, W. W. Norton and Company.

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