Op-Ed

The vaccine: part 1

Within the last seven months, I have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness two of the most life-changing and devastating events in my time — Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19.

Unlike many of the other tragedies we have witnessed around the world, both of these disasters happened in our backyard.

Many Bahamians are still picking up the pieces left in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, only to now be hit by another storm. This storm has affected every island in The Bahamas and almost every country in the world.

As scientists around the globe race to find a vaccine to fight against COVID-19, The Bahamas must now join that race in search of a vaccine of its own—one that is needed to cure our ailing economy.

I have no doubt in my mind that we will win the war against the health crisis we face today, but perhaps the biggest challenge in modern Bahamian history is the reinvention and construction of a new Bahamian economy.

This is the new battle we must overcome.

To do this, it will require us to take bold and unprecedented steps to make changes to the way we manage, grow, and envision the future of The Bahamas. It will take the creation of a blueprint for restructuring our economy, clearly articulating the roadmap and setting the national agenda for the next five to 10 years.

We will not be able to talk our way out of the new economic crisis we face; it will require decisive leadership, a competent and diverse team, vision and five key words: The will to do it!

In reshaping the Bahamian economic future, we must take a ground-up approach, starting with our most valuable asset—our people.

It is important we don’t build our house on sand.

If we are to venture into new industries, we must begin to think about how we can retrain our people to prepare them for the new economy. We should know by now that the carriage before the horse approach will never work if we are serious about the future prospects of our country.

For example, you cannot create a technology hub in The Bahamas without Bahamian technicians. How will that kind of economic transformation benefit those who need it the most?

As I have noted previously, a good example of a national effort to universally improve a country’s skill-gap is Singapore’s SkillsFuture program. SkillsFuture is designed to give Singaporeans the opportunity to develop the skills of the future, regardless of their starting point in education or in their careers. It promotes skill mastery in every job and for all Singaporeans.

The implementation of SkillsFuture grew out of Singapore’s economic planning and transition as it recovered from the Asian stock market crash. This planning was guided by a clear, simple vision from their prime minister of what he believed it would take to set his country in the right direction: “High-Skilled People, Innovative Economy, Distinctive Global City.”

They saw an opportunity in that crisis to transform the structure of their national economy.

The national skill gap must be addressed in parallel with our quest to reshape the future of our economy. There is an immediate need to establish a technology-focused training institution that will not only provide persons with skillsets they need to be qualified for the jobs of the future but to also give them the knowledge they need to become self-employed.

For example, SkillsFuture’s TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) program provides information and communications technology (ICT) professionals and non-ICT professionals with the opportunity to upgrade and acquire new skills and knowledge that are in demand, and to stay competitive, meeting the challenges of the fast-moving digital landscape. Employers in ICT and non-ICT companies can look to the TeSA for new or mid-career professionals or they can equip existing employees with the relevant ICT skills.

In fact, the entire educational system requires immediate overhauling. Our students are not being taught the knowledge and skills relevant to today’s society and they are not being equipped for the future.

School curriculums need to be completely revamped and teachers must be retrained to be able to teach students this new curriculum. Teachers must be incentivized with attractive salaries and benefits to attract the best and the brightest, as well as ensuring that they are motivated.

As benefits and salaries improve, so should the standards used to review the performance of teachers. A robust performance review process should be designed to keep a high caliber of teachers to meet our nation’s needs.

Teachers who are not qualified or not performing can no longer be allowed to remain in our system because of years on the job, political influence or because of threats of industrial action. We need the best and the brightest in our schools, always.

Finland took on massive school reform almost 60 years ago, recognizing the need for drastic change.

Before this reform, Finland’s school system was characterized by “a turgid bureaucratic system that produced low-quality education and large inequalities; it now ranks first among all the OECD nations,” according to Stanford University policy researchers.

These same researchers explain that leaders in Finland attribute their educational success to intensive investments in teacher training, education evaluation, and a major shift in the curriculum. We can do the same.

As the national average continues to get worse, the same old, same old way we approach education must change TODAY — it simply does not work.

Albert Einstein made the point, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.”

As a student, history and biology were two classes I was never good at, never interested in and never will be, but in order for me to pass my semester, I was forced into the classes. History and biology are important for us to understand the world around us, but should they be the primary focus for all students?

I failed those subjects many times when that valuable teaching time could have been spent exploring something I was good at, interested in or just something that was more relevant to today’s ever-changing world.

If we are going to transform our national economy to meet the needs of the future, first we have to put citizens at the center of our thinking. That means giving them the tools, skills and knowledge they need to thrive, as we approach this new frontier.

• Sebas Bastian is the chief executive officer of Island Luck.

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