Agricultural Sector Crisis and its Impact on Dominica
The World Bank 2006 Report on the OECS notes:
A number of events conspired to deliver the Windward islands
a significant shock vis-à-vis the end of the
banana regime: among them, the steady erosion of ACP
and the accompanying
of traditional suppliers to market forces; the alteration
of supply balance in favor of cheaper, dollar sources
at the expense
traditional sources; the removal of country-specific
quotas allowing more efficient producers scope to expand;
the steadily decreasing
incentives to importers to buy ACP bananas through
favorable licensing allocations.
For the Windward Islands banana industry which, from the start
was the highest-cost producer and faced major structural inefficiencies,
this basket of changes effectively sounded the death-knell
for a sector
which witnessed a decrease in UK-bound production from the
OECS islands from 275,541 tons in 1992 to 67,317 tons in 2003.
market share drop from about 45 percent to 15 percent. In Dominica this market share decrease represented a fall
in revenue from US$32 million in 1992 to US$5.3 million in
2003 leading the nation to the brink of a financial crisis in 2003 and 2004.
With an unemployment rate estimated to be 25 percent, and a poverty
head count index of 33 percent, much of the unemployment is found to be concentrated among young adult males. The concern is that, if left unchecked, unemployment may lead to further increases in crime, social unrest and increased poverty,which would work against further development. It has been suggested that the Governments’ inability to sustain public expenditure for education, health care, social safety nets and basic social infrastructure are key reasons for poverty levels.
As such, access and effective utilization of educational opportunities is a critical part of Dominica's future development. Individuals who have had some education are better farmers and more capable of finding off-farm employment. The rural sector will also see benefits from the overall development of the national economy and the alleviation of poverty, in which basic education is essential.
A Challenge to Educational Opportunity: Adequate Resource Materials Towards A Culture of Reading
A key challenge to reform is the fact that primary schools in low-income countries like Dominica often suffer because they are remote from the central offices of the ministry of education, which distribute instructional resources, so their quality is poor. Added to this is a schooling model, developed for an urban context, that has not been so relevant to the rural setting in the past. At the start of the 21st century, the Dominica government, recognizing these problems, has worked to provide good-quality primary schooling to all children, even those in remote rural areas. The key strategies include a new respect for local voices in what schools offer, recruiting and supporting capable teachers, adapting the curriculum to a rural setting while keeping it within the national system, helping those who cannot afford school to pay for it, and rehabilitating or constructing new schools.
While the above have led to significant improvements, much of this has been financed by outside, one-time commitments from agencies such as the World Bank and the European Union. To sustain the reform of education the Dominica government is also wrestling with the fact that it needs to create access to reading materials at every level of the system. To contextualize this, since 1995/1996 Dominican primary school students have been provided with free textbooks and as of 1999 the government implemented a version of the program for secondary school students, administered by the Ministry of Education, in order to reduce the financial burden on parents and guardians who have on an annual basis to contend with rising cost of school books.
The textbook scheme (TBS) began in 1996 in response to low attendance in primary and secondary schools and low pass rates in GCE and CXC. Free text-books are provided for all primary school students and for Year1 to 3 in secondary school (A loan fee is charged to cover for lost books and textbook fees at $85, which is a third of the cost of purchasing books).
This provision of books had a tremendous impact on performance on the part of the students. The transition rates from primary to secondary schools in Dominica were once among the lowest in the region but by 1999 the rate of transition had turned around dramatically. For example, in the period from 1984 to 1992 an average of 609 students per year (representing about 31% of the population who wrote the examinations), were admitted to secondary schools. However, by 1998 this figure increased to some 60.5% (The EFA 2000 Assessment: Dominica).
2006 GLP MEETING WITH THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION FOR DOMINICA
In November 2006, representatives from GLP (through the efforts of Ms. Angie Baptiste of Long Branch, New Jersey) were able to meet with the Hon. Vince Henderson.
Minister Henderson paid particular attention to the fact that the government of Dominica has spent the past six (6) years pursuing a policy of Universal Secondary Education as a means to ensuring that all young people have access to a secondary education. They have had tremendous success in pursuit of this policy. By 2006, 95+% of primary school students eligible for secondary education are enrolled in school.
Minister Henderson noted, however, that while attaining this has been a tremendous challenge, the task of improving the quality of education for these students and meeting stated outcomes in quality learning is an even greater challenge. Fundamentally, there is the high cost of improving the quality, the need to change the culture of the classroom and prevailing philosophies on education and role that teachers play in the process are some of the challenges.
The Global Literacy Project, Inc. (GLP) has devised a response based upon the proven insight that a major requirement is the need for a culture of reading to be spread throughout the island starting from the kindergarten and primary school level. This in turn requires a general availability of books!
The main priority for Minister Henderson was the need to improve the quality focus for schools by improving literacy and numeracy.