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President of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Warren Smith (Photo: CARICOM Today)

“We need a radical change in our education system” — CDB president

President of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Warren Smith (Photo: CARICOM Today)

President of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Warren Smith last week called for “a radical change” in the region’s education system to equip people with the necessary skills to capitalise on the digital age.

Speaking in St Kitts and Nevis on November 19, the CDB president emphasised the need to develop digital skills and literacy while outlining his vision for digital transformation in the region.

“The average citizen must be able to use technologies for learning, for working and for participating in society in a responsible, safe, and confidential manner,” Dr Smith said while giving the 34th Adlith Brown Memorial Lecture hosted by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.

“As such, policymakers will need to prioritise the development of skills — including critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity — that are required for 21st century jobs. Without this prioritisation, we risk falling behind as the proliferation of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, automation, and other technologies render repetitive, routine, mechanical and time-consuming tasks redundant,” he added.

Dr Smith cited a 2018 World Bank study which estimates that by 2030, 65 per cent of current primary school students will be engaged in jobs that do not exist presently.

“These findings point to an urgent need for an education strategy focused on training and retraining of the labour force to meet new job market requirements. We need a radical change in our education system. We must change what, how, and when people learn,” the president of the CDB said.

Data analysts, scientists, artificial and machine learning specialists, innovation professionals, e-commerce and social media experts, and robotics and software engineers were some of the jobs Dr Smith said will be in greater demand in the future, according to studies. However, if the Caribbean fails to keep pace with the current trends in education, the Dr Smith said such changes could pose a challenge for the region.

“These jobs will generally require an education with a high science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) content, an area with traditionally low enrolment in the Caribbean. Strategic reforms are required to bring about radical shifts in human resource development and training. Policymakers, educators and the private sector must forge alliances to secure a match between labour market needs, curriculum development, training, and skills availability,” he urged.

Confirming the CDB’s willingness to support Borrowing Member Countries’ governments in such reforms, Dr Smith said, “What we want to do is use our funding capacity to urge the education changes in the countries …. So in the same way that we are mainstreaming climate resilience in all of our projects… we are going to also mainstream this new technological approach to education.”

The CDB head underscored the need for the region’s leaders and policymakers to adopt and enact “thoughtful, innovative approaches to transforming our education sector” so that the Caribbean’s future generations can benefit.

“[Education] needs a total revamp — the philosophy, the methods, the thinking — all need to be transformed so that we can be ready to work in the new environment,” he concluded.