Fully Implementing UNESCO Education Guidelines for a Better Curaçao
In 2000, UNESCO issued a set of guidelines for improving primary and secondary education across the globe by 2015. Unfortunately for the students of this island, much of the importance of that resolution appears to have been casually dismissed as only a few of the proposals are now fully implemented. As we witness a worldwide economic shift, a large part of Curaçao’s ongoing success will require adequately preparing its primary and secondary students.
Making substantial systemic changes to the educational system now will not be simple but these changes are not optional if Curaçao wishes to maintain its relative affluence going forward. The best interests of these students can no longer be neglected in order to prepare for continued economic globalism.
The new government, establishing its new priorities, provides a perfect opportunity to immediately address change. Jobs in insurance, banking, and technology will require more sophisticated educational goals but will enable Curaçao’s economic diversification and render it less susceptible to global single-industry crises.
The first critical change is the language used in schools. Papiamentu is used almost exclusively in the early stages of school, and alongside Dutch in higher grades. Papiamentu is strongly encouraged in a variety of ways. Although not explicitly, the Dutch and English languages are considered by many to be elitist and therefore discouraged.
However, the disadvantage to the students in relying so heavily on Papiamentu in early childhood education is that students will not adequately learn language skills useful outside of the Dutch Caribbean. In fact, among other nations, Curaçao is an outlier in this respect. For good reason, only four other countries rely so heavily on a creole language to introduce literacy.
In addition to marginalizing the importance of these global business languages, the reliance on Papiamentu causes another problem. Teaching materials in Papiamentu are limited and there are fewer choices than European and North American equivalents in English or Dutch. Therefore, students are often forced to use substandard classroom materials.
Although there is a concern that teaching only in Dutch and using the Dutch model for education could lead to students feeling disconnected with their culture and therefore more easily to decide to move away from the island to pursue a career, this possible ‘brain drain’ seems a small risk when compared to having a workforce which is too heavily dependent on a language which is not used outside the ABC’s. The age of globalism is here and the pace is not slowing. Despite the undeniable cultural importance of Papiamentu, retaining that educational legacy at the cost of better integration into a world society is ultimately a self-defeating strategy.
The curricula of many schools deemphasize the importance of teaching science, the arts and history. Rather, the emphasis is placed on the needs of passing the test from primary to secondary education which means language and arithmetic skills. Teachers frequently reallocate time slots dedicated to other subjects to teach to the test subjects.
This narrow focus is to the detriment and peril of the students. As they fail to learn other subjects, they fail to learn the full set of tools to be a productive member of the global economy. Without giving sufficient consideration to the increasing globalism that is happening, Curaçao will ultimately suffer by being unable to compete against workforces trained in Western Europe and North America.
The dropout rate in Curaçao schools is exceptionally high. Approximately 23% of adolescents, mostly boys, are not in the educational system. Although some of this can be attributed to a disconnection based on the reliance on the Dutch educational model, other factors such as poverty and lack of support in the home are also at fault. Children in households with parents who work multiple jobs or have single-parent families are more likely to be at risk for completing their studies.
Short school days are also a significant source of educational deficiency. By teaching students what would be considered a “half-day” in most American school districts, students are deprived of the opportunity for additional learning. Further, there is generally a lack of after-school activities and school-organized sports. This puts students at a greater risk of becoming involved in dangerous activities such as drug use and other crimes. Simply increasing mandated school hours will directly lead to better outcomes for students and indirectly the economy.
Education costs in Curaçao are ostensibly paid by the government. However, many schools ask parents to augment additional expenses which are not covered by governmental revenue. Left unresolved, this has the potential to create a stratification effect in education as there will become a growing divide between schools into haves and have-nots.
While this model works in many parts of the world, and without additional funding, the danger is that many schools simply will not have sufficient resources to provide for students whose families do not have the means to contribute. This problem would be further exacerbated if schools were not required to extend their hours. Those schools who could afford to pay additional teacher salaries could teach longer and thus more productively, whereas schools who had less parental support would become even more disenfranchised vis-à-vis their peers.
And additional funding will also be needed to resolve the lack of teaching materials and teaching staff.
While sufficient in the past with outside assistance from the Netherlands and the revenue generated by highly-protective trade tariffs, Curaçao needs to take additional steps to accomplish the goal of preparing all students to be competitive in the new global economy. Falling to do so is not only a disserve to the potential of the students, it imperils the economic future of this great island.
By James Ogden, MS
Cabaviso Technology Advisors