The Barbados Community College Experience
Leading the Anglophone Caribbean in a Global Movement
- Published: July 2020
The Barbados Community College Experience establishes the genesis of the college and the ongoing impact of globalization and educational borrowing. It examines the North American community college’s influence on the Caribbean pool, the global community college movement and its emerging global counterparts. By deriving five models of development in the region, Vivienne Roberts opens a new window to the community college experience in the anglophone Caribbean by bringing to the fore the reality of more than twenty relevant institutions.
Barbados has been the community college pioneer in the anglophone Caribbean and a fairly early entrant to the worldwide community college movement. Roberts sets the Barbados experience in its local, regional and global contexts by exploring the phases of establishment, consolidation, expansion and reputation building, and uncertainty and reinvention. The colleges’ widening scope of operations from transfer to vocational, community engagement, remediation, baccalaureate, and adult and continuing education roles is discussed.
The book also interrogates the extent to which the Barbados Community College has shown leadership within the Caribbean and demonstrated the values of accessibility, affordability, flexibility, community engagement and innovation while impacting student success, stakeholder satisfaction and fulfilment of its mission.
List of Tables / xii
Preface / xiii
Acknowledgements / xxi
Abbreviations / xxv
1. Context, Concepts and Processes / 1
2. The Global Community College Context / 11
3. The North American Community College Experience / 22
4. The Global Movement and Community College Counterparts / 34
5. The Community College in the English-Speaking Caribbean / 48
6. The Barbados Community College: The Establishment Year, 1968 / 89
7. The Establishment Years under Clyde Best, 1969–1976 / 99
8. Filling the Gap with Arthur Sealy, 1976–1978 / 122
9. Growth and Consolidation Years under Alvin Barnett, 1978–1988 / 127
10. Expansion, Outreach and Reputation Building with Norma Holder, 1988–2004 / 155
11. A Phase of Uncertainty for Gladstone Best, 2004–2014 / 193
12. The Golden Age of Opportunities for Ian Austin and Others, 2015–2018 / 217
Conclusion / 234
Appendix 1: List of Principals / 253
Appendix 2: List of Deputy Principals / 253
Appendix 3: List of First Staff Members / 254
Appendix 4: Board of Management Chairs / 255
Appendix 5: Registrars, Bursars and Supervisor / 255
Appendix 6: List of Senior Tutors / 256
Appendix 7: Some Department Heads / 258
Appendix 8: Staff Profile 2016 / 258
Appendix 9: Establishment Dates of Divisions / 259
Appendix 10: International Formal and Informal Articulation Arrangements / 260
Appendix 11: Articulation Arrangements with the University of the West Indies / 261
Appendix 12: Dates of Introduction of Programmes / 262
Appendix 13: Guild Presidents and Vice-Presidents / 264
Appendix 14: Scholarship Regulations / 265
Appendix 15: Annual Student Enrolment / 275
Appendix 16: Questionnaire for Past Staff / 277
References / 279
Index / 291
Few of us have had the good fortune to have lived a life which has followed a master plan: be born in a nuclear family, attend traditional schools at the appropriate ages, move along our educational journey at set intervals, find and work in traditional jobs of our choice, achieve the milestones we set ourselves, retire at a set time and live happily ever after. For most of us, life’s journey has been complicated.
Often, we have had to take the road less travelled or, on occasion, create a path where one did not exist. Whether in politics, religion or education, living, surviving and maturing have meant making sense out of nonsense, searching for answers to questions which seemed unanswerable, living with uncertainty and ambiguity, and yet creating a reality and finding a course of action which seems at least appropriate, defensible, sensible, satisfying or just comfortable.
From childhood to adulthood, some of us have struggled with the concept of the Trinity in religion, grappling with the idea of three in one and one in three. In the end, many have come to embrace an unshakeable belief that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, though three persons, are joined by a unity of purpose.
As citizens of the English-speaking Caribbean, joined by a common language and a similar history but separated by the expanse of the Caribbean Sea, generations of politicians have sought to forge a federation or Caribbean community. In the meantime, ordinary citizens have managed to create a unity, tapping into the common core values of the region while enjoying the freedoms and opportunities inherent in differences.
Practitioners in education realize, only after considerable reflection, that there is as much artificiality in the established levels of education as there is in the separation of knowledge and understanding into subject disciplines of science and arts. After all, the organization into kindergarten, primary, secondary, further, tertiary and higher may very well be merely an administrative tool designed to create order and efficiency, in the same way that the scientific method transcends the borders of science and design crosses the boundary of the arts. Youngsters show us today that linear thinking blocks the gateway to creativity and matrix thinking unlocks unforeseen possibilities.
Across the region, there are similar educational institutions variously labelled as national colleges, state colleges, community colleges, colleges, university colleges and even universities. There are technical colleges, technical institutes and polytechnics. There are even schools that are called colleges and colleges that are called schools. There are grammar schools, high schools, secondary schools, specialist schools and comprehensive schools, and even secondary modern schools. Reflecting on these labels, one may ask: What is in a name? Are these labels the legacy of politics, the whimsy of leaders or the musings of semanticists? Do they constitute the general reality or someone’s specific agenda, in an attempt to make sense of a given situation?
Perhaps that was the line of thinking that Thomas Henry Huxley (1888, 204) was following when he stated:
It was badly received by the generation to which it was first addressed, and the outpouring of angry nonsense to which it gave rise is sad to think upon. But the present generation will probably behave just as badly if another Darwin should arise, and inflict upon them that which the generality of mankind most hate – the necessity of revising their convictions. Let them, then, be charitable to us ancients; and if they behave no better than the men of my day to some new benefactor, let them recollect that, after all, our wrath did not come to much, and vented itself chiefly in the bad language of sanctimonious scolds. Let them as speedily perform a strategic right- about-face, and follow the truth wherever it leads.
Some of us have had the challenge of trying to make sense of religious denominations with conflicting viewpoints on salient matters like Sabbaths and Lord’s Days, salvation by grace, and rewards of faith or works. Others have had the opportunity to live in different countries and experience the disorientation of variable cultural norms. Yet others quickly shift their points of reference depending on the situation – for example, where driving on the right in one place is as correct as driving on the left in another. Many of African heritage have undergone a metamorphosis from the idea of being well groomed being signalled by cropped or straightened hair in a colonial era to one of attractive kinky, less ordered and natural Afros, locks and twists.
The challenges in setting up a new educational institution must be daunting. However, a community college in a newly independent, anglophone Caribbean country is a novelty; operationalizing it would have been quite perplexing, as the leaders figured out what should be adopted, what adapted, and what created fresh. Although no one said it publicly in those words, sceptics may even have considered the idea nonsensical, not meaning it to be foolish; but more so, a misfit, as described by Zukav (1979) as not fitting into the prearranged patterns which we have superimposed on reality.
It should not be too difficult to imagine the experience of working in a newly formed community college that was trying to establish its credibility as a tertiary institution to a sceptical public. It was an institution which was daring to assert its differences, while at the same time teaching traditional advanced- level subjects, like some secondary schools. It was a college where only a few weeks earlier, many secondary school teachers had been transformed into tertiary teachers by a small allowance, and perhaps the Midas touch.
This was a college that quickly needed to build the self-confidence of a heterogeneous student body in which young students may have been trying to fend off an inferiority complex, and mature students were striving to find a place; full-time students were making sense of freedom from uniforms and coping with a newfound responsibility for time on task, while part-time students were searching for legitimacy and carving out more hours in a working day.
Teachers were searching for their own identities as assistant tutors, tutors, instructors, or even facilitators in an environment where the practice should no longer be guided by pedagogy for pupils, but rather by andragogy for the adult learner. The founder of the college had declared that it was to be neither a transplant from the United States nor a hybrid between a university and a secondary school. As an implementer of that vision in the first community college in the region, leaders were challenged to create a homegrown institution. It could choose to spend many years on either defending what it was not or diligently asserting what it could be. Reflecting on the African proverb “A snake does not measure its shape against the rainbow”, it needed to come to terms with how it would present and assess itself.
At this stage of life, reflection has become a daily practice. Since retirement, memories have become a familiar companion. History has magically reshaped past discomforts, resolved many former contradictions and transformed several ensuing disappointments into life lessons. I sometimes wonder which of these musings are facts, which are only ideas and which are figments of the imagination. My scientific training raises those questions, but my life experiences instruct me that there is intrinsic value in any recollection, both to self and others.
I did not search for my first teaching job after graduation. It found me and took me to a place that I have never forgotten. It was elitist, isolated, orderly, selective, structured, quiet, clean and traditional. Clean-cut, middle-class young women, destined for the professions or business or leisure, were busy in the sixth forms preparing for A-level studies in the sciences. A new graduate, bursting with knowledge and energized by recent success, I was excited about my lifelong dream of being a teacher, elated about imparting what I knew, ready to help students gain new skills and overflowing with excitement to take them through two gruelling years of study to achieve the goal of not just passing, but getting good grades in those prized examinations.
On reflection, up until 1974, I was unaware of community colleges, which were never a part of my educational journey or landscape. That changed when I decided to leave a familiar place behind and move to Barbados. I learned then that teaching positions might be available at the five-year-old Barbados Community College. Perhaps because my application was late (or perhaps not), it was not accepted. However, I was far more successful on that September morning when I walked into the office of the deputy chief education officer on Jemmotts Lane and enquired about a teaching job. I am not sure if I had already presented my credentials, but I recall her surprising response: “When would you like to start?”
A few days later, if not the next day, I made the journey from my home in Haggatt Hall, St Michael, to West St Joseph Secondary School (now Grantley Adams Memorial), where that too has left an indelible memory. There stood an old imposing but somewhat rundown plantation house on tree-lined grounds. Much of my time, however, was to be spent not in the house, but in smaller outer buildings which housed the science laboratories and doubled as class- rooms as well.
In many ways, this was opposite to what I had left behind – large classes, noisy environs, younger pupils, less structure, less order, new principal, mixed student body in terms of gender, educational abilities and interest. For the few months I spent there, I enjoyed experiencing a different culture, meeting committed teachers and interesting students, many of whom had serious academic dreams and focus and who worked hard with me – an untrained teacher who was willing to try different pathways to success, albeit mainly in external examinations.
The Ministry of Education was just working on my appointment when I got news through my growing local network about a possible teaching post at the Barbados Community College. Those prospects seemed more appealing, so I applied, and this time I was successful. It was at the interview that I realized that I was not going to be teaching A-level science subjects, as I had anticipated. Instead, I was to apply my knowledge as an assistant tutor in the newly established Division of Health Sciences.
It was on arrival at Jemmotts Lane that I came to know that I was the only full-time member of the staff, apart from the senior tutor, Alvin Barnett. I also learned that training allied health personnel in public health inspection, medical laboratory technology, pharmacy, occupational therapy and medical records technology was the goal. These disciplines were transitioning from apprenticeship training to formal full-time education at the college, and curricula for science and general education courses needed to be urgently developed for inclusion in these programmes. I learned quickly that institutions such as the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Mona Rehabilitation Centre and West Indies School of Public Health in Jamaica had gone that route in earlier years. For Barbados Community College, this was a first; for me, it was another new experience, never to be forgotten.
I seem to have an affinity for old buildings, or they for me. Classes were conducted in the old Tercentenary School of Nursing building, which would also later house a small library. The laboratories were located next to the offices in a small, repurposed old building near a prominent tamarind tree, cherished for its shade for cars and groups as well as for its delightful fruits. The programme coordinators and part-time tutors were seasoned practitioners in their disciplines. Many of the students were older than I was, had much practical experience in their field and all were focused on quickly improving their knowledge and skills. With their family duties and other adult responsibilities, they had little time and minimal opportunity for extracurricular activities, and they had little in common with their peers in another space – young students at the Eyrie campus.
There were no computers – only typewriters, Gestetner copiers, stencils, styluses and spirit duplicators. There was no Internet to quickly access information. I knew no colleagues in Barbados with prior experience in college- level science courses for Allied Health. The senior tutor was a quiet, steady, transformative leader who guided and allowed you to be adventurous, even if you made mistakes. I had no blueprint and no teacher training.
However, I had access to the valuable experience of the practitioners in several health disciplines; the list of competencies required for various jobs; the ears of the senior tutor, who himself had a science background; a few manuals; my own books for reference; a disposition to listen; and a sound education which included learning how to learn. Pursuing a diploma in education soon after gave me some important tools in curriculum design, as well as practice in the art and science of teaching. There was a sense of purpose, a pervading pioneering spirit and an excitement about the work in the Division of Health Science, as we diligently created a path that hitherto did not exist. It was during my studies in the United States for a master’s degree in educational leadership in 1983 that I pursued a course called “The Community College”. This was an eye-opener. I discovered the protean nature of the community college in the United States, and even that the concept existed in a few other countries. I appreciated its inclusiveness and symbiotic relationship with the community and the world of work. I was fascinated with an anecdotal definition that a community college is an institution that “will teach anything to anyone, anywhere and at any time, as long as the resources allowed”. It was at that time that I reconstructed my concept of the community college so it was enlarged well beyond the image of a two-year or an A-level college.
It came to mean a place of learning where adults are provided with opportunities to embark on different educational journeys in preparation for further study, work, the pursuit of interests and leisure activities, periodic retooling, and even the discovery of self. It became clear that a community college is a special institution, unconstrained by the traditions of past centuries and ever evolving to meet emerging societal needs. It came to mean to me an institution of opportunities for students of all ages and at all stages, as well as leaders and staff endowed with a spirit of enterprise, nested in an incubator of unlimited possibilities in relation to curricula, projects and innovations. It stood out as a key instrument in human resource development and an important partner in nation building.
I left the Barbados Community College in 1991, but I took a part of it with me to the University of the West Indies (UWI). I carried with me its commitment to openness, access and innovation, the value it placed on articulation and partnerships, its penchant for flexibility and embracing change, the knack for breaking down the barriers imposed by labels, and the worth of lifelong learning. Those understandings served me well as I worked on the other side of the fence at UWI, first in the UWI/USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Development Training Project, the Tertiary Level Institutions Unit and later, in helping to shape the UWI Open Campus.
Working at different levels and locations in Caribbean tertiary education has provided me with an important and unique vantage point to observe and influence growth and innovation, experience success and failure, confront setbacks and, through strategic repositioning in the sector, achieve recovery. Many lessons have been learned, and there are many stories which can be told. Some may be merely interesting, but more importantly, many would be instructive to tertiary education students – including potential students and alumni, educators, administrators, planners, employers, community leaders, policymakers and civil society as they continue to reinvent a vibrant tertiary education sector. This book is a personal attempt to make sense out of nonsense, not only for oneself but also for others of like mind. It is an articulation of the essence of a community college in the Caribbean that would become a place of learning and development for adults, an institution responsive to postsecondary educational needs and a community-oriented institution reflecting openness and flexibility, geared towards preparation for work, studies and life itself. In the end, this book seeks to celebrate opportunities seized and look ahead to future possibilities.
In the 1990s, I researched and wrote on access to tertiary education in Barbados and St Lucia and the Barbados Community College was a focal point. It is true to say that my encounter with that institution was a career-changing (indeed life-changing) one. It is that experience that has inspired me to this point, where I shall attempt to share with whoever has the time and interest to read it, my musings on the community college in general, but on the Barbados Community College in particular: its origins, intentions, relationships with other institutions, opportunities – seized or lost, successes and possibilities. Perhaps the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Barbados Community College is an appropriate time to document its journey and celebrate its achievements.