The message was simple, Keep CALM and Learn. For sixteen years Pinelands Creative Workshop has been working with school leavers to make the transition from school to the world of work less of a shock through their Career and Life Management programme. Keynote speaker and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Harry Husbands, drew on his own experience to explain how important the switch can be; he and the other speakers basically explained to the twenty-seven participants that there was no simple progression from one dimension to the other. To demonstrate this they used personal anecdotes to show that the world of work was in fact the next phase of education.
Senator Husbands shook off the trappings of his office and fell back on his decades of experience as a teacher. His touching testimony complimented the frank words of encouragement that came from Rodney Grant, PCW CEO and Ryan Byer, Officer in Charge of the University of the West Indies Open Campus. Earlier, Mr. Byer had spoken of how pleased the The Open Campus was to work with PCW over the past sixteen years on the CALM programme. He complimented PCW for the foresight and tenacity it took to successfully help hundreds of students hone the softer but critical life skills that they would need in the world beyond secondary school. He also confirmed that the Open Campus was happy to continue to collaborate with PCW in the years to come on their education based programmes.
For his part Rodney Grant drew the teenagers’ attention to the parallels that exist between life as a student and life in the real world. He used the analogy of a surfer who operates on the surface of the water as compared to a diver who plumbs the depth of the ocean to challenge the participants to “go deep” into the volumes of knowledge all around them. He asked them to go out and learn what they could do with their education to contextualise what they learnt in school. This, he assured them could crystallise the fact that they were multiple intelligences and that they might have to examine different disciplines to find their “fit”. He also encouraged them to be active in the programme “it’s aim is to prepare you” he said, and the best method of learning about life was to immerse themselves in it.
Speaking to the educators, parents and wider society he said “don’t continue to fail our children, by forcing them into academics. Encourage their natural abilities.” From his work in the Pinelands community he bemoaned how often he saw young people who were marginalised, frustrated and ultimately let down by a system that required them conform. He went on to point out how this led to social issues like drug use and crime, and called for more civic minded organisations like CALM’s partner the Maria Holder Trust to be active in similar solutions.
This was the first point that Jane Armstrong picked up on in her words of support for the programme. As Chief Project Manager of the Maria Holder Trust, she also spoke simply and frankly, she congratulated Pinelands on their work with the youth and pledged continuing support from the Trust which had committed to building six nursery school in Barbados. She also complimented the attendees on their punctuality which she explained was a demonstration of respect for the time of others. Before handing over to Senator Husbands she advised them to “Enjoy the programme and enjoy the experience”.
Before he reduced the significance of the programme to its constituent parts Senator Husbands praised the Maria Holder Trust for its gift of six nursery schools to Barbados. He drew attention to the magnitude of their support by pointing out that this kind of gift was unheard of in Barbados’ history. His challenge to Barbadians was that using the facilities would be the best way to repay the Trust. He then went on to congratulate the PCW for having the foresight to start the CALM initiative sixteen years ago. It was here that he drew the first reference to his personal experience and spoke of when he left school forty years ago.
Even though he went on to explain that there were no programmes like this in his time he chose instead to focus on the opportunities that lay in wait for “this generation”. As an example he spoke of his niece. In tracing her educational and professional career he spoke of the global dimension that her life took on because of her determination and willingness to recognise and seize every learning opportunity that she thought could help her reach her goals. He explained that after she left Barbados on a partial scholarship to study in England she went on to teach in Lithuania, along the way she learned Spanish and got a job in Chile before becoming a Human Rights lawyer in Washington D.C. She then went on to learn the very specific German dialect of her fiancé before they both moved to India to work.
He encouraged them not to see his niece’s path as an exception and instead to see it simply as a possibility. These possibilities are endless he said, the choice to take a one week course could open their minds to options they had never considered, it could lead them to new areas of study or interest or both. Just as importantly, he continued, these courses could give them valuable empirical experience that had the potential to lift their résumés to the top of the pile when then found themselves in the hunt for a job. He sought to clarify how this course, just like the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQs), a work-related, competence-based certification, was another way to demonstrate expertise in a specific area. Like Rodney Grant before him, he implored them to see that there are many opportunities outside of the traditional subjects like Maths and Science.
He advised them not to hide from work as so many people are tempted to do; instead he opined that they should embrace it; and that they should realise that from incredible challenges, come incredible opportunities.