Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Sidewalks!

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

My 92 year-old mother is singing the praises of the UPP government. Why? Because when she goes to shop in St. Johns, she can walk along the sidewalks without fear of being hit by a car. She likes the wider, flatter and lower sidewalks. The only things she says that she has to look out for are those red painted, poorly designed grates. She says that the bars should be placed closer together. But, she is not really complaining.

So… she is thankful and surprised.

Why surprised? Well… the sidewalks and the road improvements were not there the last time she walked through the city. She is amazed at the speed with which the project is being completed. She is further amazed, because in Antigua, it is highly unusual for projects… particularly public projects… especially public projects conducted by Public Works… to be done quickly. And when you add… efficiently, effectively and attractively… well that is historically unheard of.

Now she knows that Public Works had help. She knows that the Cubans seemed to have put us to shame and that that might have provided the necessary prick on our pride to spur our Public Works’ staff to respond positively to the challenge. And respond they have… and well… so far… so good.

But the stronger prick and push came not from the Cubans but from the imminent arrival of Cricket World Cup. For months… maybe longer… just about everyone in the country has been fussing about the need to fix the roads… all roads. Even some Ministers of the current Government seemed to have been discontented with the situation. There were charges from some elected officials that the Ministry of Finance was not releasing the money for public projects. There were counter charges that Public Works was not providing the proper documentation to request the necessary funds.

But all of the squabbling dissipated when everyone realized that the opening date for CWC was just around the corner! There was a deadline. There was no getting around it. There was no getting away from it. The date was set in stone. So the stones had to be worked. And so, what needed to be done was done – quickly. And the city is being transformed.

So it took the imminent arrival of CWC to drive our Government to implement this project of upgrading the city. According to local DJ and radio personality Serpent, it seems as though we need to bring CWC here to Antigua every month in order for Government to complete all of the projects that it has promised.

Sad… but true.

So… what other events might we the people highlight that would get a similar response from the Government? How can we get the Government to fix all the roads and alleys? How can we influence them, or push them to really make significant adjustments to the airport? What can we do to get them to implement serious programming to address the apparently high levels of crime and violence? What kind of pricking is needed to have them foster deep and lasting improvements to our education system?

And what do we have to do to get any Government… UPP or whoever… to continuously deliver on the projects that they promise?

Elections? Maybe we should have some kind of election every two years. I think that we need to change from an appointed Senate to an elected one. Then we need to change elections for the Lower House from every five years to every four years. The Senate would also be elected every four years. Both elections would be held two years apart. So, for example, the next election for the Lower House would be held in 2008 (and every four years thereafter), and the elections for our new Senate would be held in 2010 (and every four years thereafter.

That would keep politicians hopping. That would keep them delivering. And, we the people would see a never ending stream of projects – creatively, efficiently, effectively and attractively done – just like the sidewalks in St. Johns.

By the way… why were the grates painted red?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In Search Of ... Educational Data

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D

On Saturday, February 25th 2005, Bill Gates blasted the state of U.S. high schools in a speech before the National Association of Governors Education Summit in the Washington, DC.

Listening to Gates on C-Span, I was compelled to compare his concerns about the state of education in America to my own concern about the state of education in Antigua and Barbuda.

Gates said that he was “ashamed” and “appalled” at the failure rates for students. He called America’s high schools broken, flawed and under-funded, and said the system itself is obsolete. Gates comments were fueled by the fact that “statistics” showed that when compared to twenty other ‘developed’ nations (mainly European countries) American education ranked quite low in most areas.

I struggled to compare our education with that of any other country outside the Caribbean. Why? Because, while educational ‘statistics’ are easily obtainable in any district or state in America, getting information on our students in Antigua and Barbuda is downright difficult – if not almost impossible. ‘Difficult’ because what ever little data have been collected, they are not easily available or accessible. ‘Almost impossible’ because a lot of the data have not been collected and collated to be made sense of and then reported!

I could fill this article with hundreds of questions that have been burning within me for years. Questions for which, many of my friends in education have had either no answers to, avoided, or presented circuitous, pathetic, ‘shameful’, ‘appalling’ and at best, poor defensive retorts.

Here are a few questions: What is the reading level of students who enter First Form in our secondary schools? And, by the way, is there a way to measure the level those students are reading at? What percentage of them need remedial work in mathematics (or Reading, Writing, or English) when they first enter the secondary education system? How many of the students who enter First Form graduate on time? Which Form do they tend to repeat the most? How many graduate at all?

Do we have data on all students and in all schools as they move from grade to grade or from form to form? In other words, can and do we track students from the time they enter the formal educational system until they graduate (or drop out)? By the way, what are our drop-out rates? I mean the ‘real figures’? For those who drop out… what propels them to leave? Is it age, poor academic results, poverty and family pressure to work, drug and alcohol use, gangs, negative peer pressure, pregnancy, or just a lack of motivation to complete their education?

How many post-primary students graduate on time? Are they tracked differently from those students who enter the secondary school at First Form? What general difficulties do the Post Primary Students have and in which subject areas do they have problems? Are these problems different from their peers who entered directly into First Form?

What does graduation mean anyway? Does it mean that a student has ‘completed’ Fifth Form? Or, does it mean that the student has successfully met a pre-determined standard of achievement? And, what is this standard of achievement and how is it measured?

When a student enters the secondary level, what ought to be his/her minimum goals for success at ‘graduation’? Should it be to pass five CXC subjects at a certain level? Should it be to ‘just get through’ 5th Form – that being the key to attend the ‘graduation ceremony’? Or should there be something else? What does ‘get through’? Does it mean that the student reached 5th Form, stayed in 5th Form until the end of the school year… even though he or she did not pass any subjects?

If the standard of achievement is taking the CXC Examinations, then what is the standard of achievement that says to a student: “You have successfully met the minimum requirements to be designated as a ‘Secondary School Graduate’”? And, if such a student has met those minimum requirements for ‘graduation’… should that student not get a Secondary School Diploma from the Ministry of Education?

I have presented in this article, a few of the many questions that I and many others need answers to. The intention here is not criticize but to critique, not to impeach but to inspire, not to enrage but to engage our leaders in education to look at the deeper issues. My purpose here is to encourage them not only to inform, not only to reform, but to radically transform the Antiguan and Barbuda education system – not the OECS, not CARICOM… but the Antigua and Barbuda education system!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ho, Ho, Ho!

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

Recent headlines across the Caribbean state “LIAT To Buy C-Star!” Other headlines also indicate that C-Star will Lend shareholder governments US$55 million” to buy C-Star and pay their debts!

C-Star will lend LIAT money to buy C-Star from C-Star???

According to one newspaper, this was said by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, who apparently is the spokesman for the LIAT shareholder governments. Gonsalves also reported said. “We are buying Caribbean Star… the question is whether we buy the assets or we buy the whole airline!”

I was floored... once again. Knocked down! I couldn’t believe it. Once again our leaders have allowed themselves to be swindled by THE modern day pirate of the Caribbean. In broad daylight. Conned not only right in front of the faces… but by their own willing agreement!

Something else is going on. It can’t be just stupidity!

Let’s look at this a little more closely. Now… let me be clear… I am not trying to be an analyst! I am just simply trying to understand this issue.

  • C-Star was founded to compete with LIAT.
  • C-Star competed aggressively with LIAT and by all accounts C-Star purposely and successfully undermined LIAT’s profitability by establishing predatory pricing practices!
  • From the very beginning, it was obvious that C-Star’s leadership's primary goal was to fatally wound LIAT and bring it down. All of this so that C-Star would then become the choice airline of the islands and in the process... it would swallow LIAT!
  • That did not happen!
  • Yes LIAT was wounded. But in the process C-Star was losing money in gushes.

And so, C-Star’s leadership seems to have revised it’s plan…

What was the new plan? Well, they needed to stop the millions of dollars that was gushing down the C-Star toilet. So… why not sell C-Star to LIAT?

Hey… not only will “I” stop my money from gushing into the toilet… but I will get back some of the money that I lost. Unhuh --- But they won’t have the money to buy C-Star… so if I lend them the money to buy C-Star and pay off some of their debts, I will get more of my money back from the interest on the loan. Ho, Ho Ho and a bottle of Cavalier Courvoisier Cognac!

Yep... And, if those leaders are as foolish as they have been, as part of the deal… not only will I “sell” C-Star to them – not only will I lend them the money so that they can buy my failed C-Star from me – But maybe I will also get them to give me 35% of LIAT in the process! Ho Ho Ho and a bottle of Sunset Rum Johnny Walker!

What a plan!

  1. I sell C-Star to LIAT! I unload the failed C-Star on those governments! Now their money will be gushing down the toilet!
  2. I lend them the money to buy C-Star from me to pay off some of their debts. So now they owe me… and I will continue to reap the benefits from the interest for years and years…
  3. I also get to own 35% of LIAT! As a result I become the single majority shareholder!!! Ho, Ho, Ho!
  4. Plus, they will come back to beg me more money… Most airlines all over the world are failing… LIAT will not make it - not without me and my great leadership (even though I couldn’t make C-Star successful). So when they borrow more money from me… I will increase my shares… until I own most of it…! In addition, I will not only get more land in Antigua… I will get land in St. Vincent too… I don’t think I can fool those Bajans… but why not try? I got those Bajan cricketing greats… so maybe I can get the politicians… too. Although that Mia Mottley (notice the name)… seems to be different!
  5. So, this will enhance my ability to execute my master plan... (more on this in another BLOG) HO, Ho, Ho and a bottle of Mount Gay Chardonnay.

Explain "Why" to me!

So, can someone explain to me why our illustrious government leaders have agreed to this nefarious plan?

Maybe it is I who don’t understand! Maybe it is because I am not an economist… or maybe I am slow… or worse… daft!

But something else is going on... this cannot be just plain stupidity. As one of those leaders said several months ago… “When we explain it… everyone will understand.”

Well, I need to hear that explanation because right now, it seems to me our leaders are not only willing… but enthusiastic victims of the buccaneering exploits of the #1 pirate of the Caribbean!