Random thoughts on Universities in the Post COVID-19 Era: Time for a Regional ConversationRead Now
Over the past two weeks, both the University of Guyana (UG) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) have addressed the issues of surviving in the post COVID era. In the case of UG, the discussions centered on the construction of the Strategic Blueprint (Plan) to 2040. Its emphasis is on rolling out hybrid education placing priorities on creating viable research centres, multidisciplinary approaches and a business model for ensuring sustainability. For UWI, its focus is on implementing the Triple Strategy: Access, Alignment and Agility to revitalize Caribbean Development 2017-2022. Emphasis has been placed on its substantial research profile and global approach to partnering with institutions in Africa, Canada, China, European Union and USA. These attributes have contributed to UWI's high ranking in the 400-500 band or the top 2.5% of Universities in the world, based on the 2021 Times Educational Impact Rankings. The details of these activities reveal that both UG’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Paloma Mohamed Martin and UWI’s Vice Chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles and their senior management teams must be congratulated for their creative leadership in confronting the challenges of these COVID-19 times.
Challenges to Overcome
The severity of the times that affect the region's higher educational institutions is articulated in " A post pandemic assessment of the SDGs", a new study by the IMF ( April 29, 2021). The study proposes a framework for developing countries to evaluate policy choices that can raise long-term growth, mobilize more revenue, and attract private investments to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit countries' development agendas hard, is an understatement with reference to the Caribbean. ECLAC'S Economic Development Report (April 2021) indicates that the crisis is threatening to leave the Latin America and Caribbean region with higher poverty levels, greater inequality, and higher levels of debt across virtually all countries. There are many potential reasons why the region fared poorly. Weak health infrastructure, patchy enforcement of lockdowns, high levels of informality, and a lack of connectivity to work from home worsened the health crisis.
Meanwhile, limited fiscal packages and central bank assistance of 3% - 8.5% of GDP compared with an average of 19% for advanced countries may have caused more suffering to the region’s economies. It will for example, result in shrinking government resources available for spending on achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The IMF’s study which assesses the current state of funding SDGs in five key development areas—: education, health, roads, electricity, and water and sanitation — is particularly relevant. Based on its newly developed “dynamic macroeconomic framework”, the study predicts that even with ambitious domestic reforms, most developing countries will not be able to raise the necessary resources to finance these goals. They will need decisive and extraordinary support from the international community—including private and official donors and international financial institutions.
It is in response to these circumstances that long term planning such as those undertaken by UG’s Blueprint and UWI’s Triple Strategy is commendable. They both focus on alternative revenue streams to those provided by governments, configuring new programs, fostering non- traditional partnerships and achieving greater equity in access to higher education.
The 2021 Times Educational Impact Rankings include criteria for assessing Universities on their performance around selected SDGs, thereby ensuring connections between universities and the respective national and regional communities that they serve. This is referred to by UG as "citizens success", one of the major goals in its Blueprint and the aspiration of one graduate per household by 2040. Like UWI, UG has been able to pivot to online learning and teaching with a high degree of success. UG has even increased its enrollment for 2020-2021 amid the COVID crisis. UWI has at the same time attracted the largest all time grant of US $25m through partnership with Silicon Valley to expand its digital footprint.
Some Critical Issues to be Resolved
Notwithstanding the achievements and aspirational goals of UG and UWI, there are some overarching considerations for universities contributing to the achievement of the 2030 SDGs. They raise some random thoughts in the form of the following questions:
Framing the Answers -Two Extreme cases
Answers to these questions are grounded in the experiences of a wide array of universities with special reference to articles, webinars and podcasts in several recent issues from Inside Higher Ed. Among them are two articles with diametrically opposed results: one on Fordham University, Bronx, New York on creative budgeting in the COVID era https://insight.fordham.edu/2021-anomaly-balanced-budget/. The other on the insolvency declaration at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada:https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/04/29/insolvency-declaration-laurentian-throws-much-limbo
Focusing More Specifically on Differentiation
The following are some summary responses to the questions raised:
Conclusion: Toward a Comprehensive Regional Dialogue
As institutions and individuals confront the challenges of the COVID-19 era, it is becoming clear that for the CARICOM region there is much to be gained by a collective approach. It is for example heartening to note Prime Minister Keith Rowley, Chair of the Caribbean Community, appealing for vaccine supplies for the Region (not only for Trinidad and Tobago). A recent meeting of CARICOM Ministers of Health revealed the importance of the coordinating role of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in disseminating scientific information, linking the region's COVID-19 response through collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization. CARICOM counties are also rallying assistance for St Vincent and the Grenadines due to the Soufrière volcanic eruption that has created a national crisis. Educational institutions in various ways -- especially UWI -- have been important sources of analysis and dissemination of information on the coronavirus. This crisis has however created an awareness of the need for collaboration. It provides a most appropriate opportunity for dialogue among our national and regional institutions. Consideration could be given to a theme such as, the Future of Higher Education in the Caribbean in the Post COVID-19 era- taking collective action in support of a Community for all.
On World’s Earth Day 2021 we are reminded of the need to “Restore Our Earth.”Read Now
As we write this Blog on the 51st anniversary of World Earth day, 40 world leaders are engaged in a Virtual Climate Summit convened by President Joseph Biden. The aims among others, are to galvanize efforts by the world’s major economies to keep a limit of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to protect lives and livelihoods from the impacts of climate change. His aspirational goal for USA is to achieve net zero by 2050. It seemed to simulate positive responses from China and many other countries including Russia. Reinstating the USA in the 2015 Paris Agreement as one the first acts of his Presidency indicates a serious intent to respond to the science which shows that threats of climate change are mounting. Global average temperatures are rising. There is increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires. All these affect the health and safety of communities around the world. According to a recent report from the UN, without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and invest in sustainable development, climate change could push 100 million people into extreme poverty in the next decade.
Earth Day was initiated on April 22, 1970 in the USA with demonstrations involving 20 million Americans against dangerously serious issues such as: toxic drinking water, air pollution, and the effects of pesticides. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, provided a model for other countries and introduced laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Despite these efforts, carbon emissions have increased worldwide due to human abuse of the environment. The world’s tropical forests, a reservoir for trapping carbon emissions are rapidly being destroyed. So have the natural habitat of wildlife species. Conserving and restoring tropical forests and wildlife are among the most immediate steps necessary to reduce the risk of future pandemics.
What is more, biodiversity that underpins all life on Earth from the genetic make up of plants and animals to cultural diversity is under serious attack. WHO’s state of knowledge report jointly published with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) fully amplifies the health consequences of biodiversity loss and change. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/connecting-global-priorities-biodiversity-and-human-health . They show that the impact on nutrition, new infectious diseases and on the shifts in the distribution of plants, pathogens, animals, and even human settlements, are all affected by climate change. This is why international organizations, national governments, and companies are spending some 95 percent of their climate-related investment on carbon emission reductions. But those efforts will serve to prevent only the worst-case scenarios. The fact is that climate change has already done a great deal of damage and that more harmful effects will be impossible to avert altogether.
World leaders at the Biden Summit on Climate Change have mostly referred to high tech solutions such as solar panels, electric vehicles, targets to transition to on-grid services and new construction, farming and battery technologies. Yet reducing emissions is just half the battle. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, shows how restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. Fortunately, most of the adjustments needed to lessen their impact are not difficult. Many adaptations do not require new technology. Nor do they have to pass through ‘the political minefield of international climate action’. Instead, many simply require citizens to take the initiative in their local communities.
Two illustrations from the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region are pertinent.
First, St Lucia has just launched a stimulating 4-minute animated video designed to raise public awareness about climate change. Second, Latin America and the Caribbean 24 states are signatories, while 12 have ratified the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters known as the Escazú Agreement
came into force on World’s Earth Day 2021. It also commemorates International Mother Earth Day. To mark the occasion, the UN Secretary General says “we must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption”. This statement aptly describes the stark reality of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines currently in a major crisis from La Soufrière, silent since 1979, that combines a volcanic eruption, its largest COVID-19 surge since the pandemic, the region’s worst Dengue outbreak in recent history, and a new, possibly deadly, hurricane season. With further eruptions expected in the coming weeks, experts believe that the growing humanitarian crisis will last months. The UN launching a $29.2 million global funding appeal is an illustration of Global solidarity.
However, it was Prime Minister Brown of Antigua and Barbuda speaking on behalf of the the 44 members of the Alliance of Small Island States (OASIS) at the Summit, that highlighted the fact these countries contributing just 1.5 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialized nations, are the most affected by climate change. Yet many of them have already begun to roll out ambitious programmes to reduce their small carbon footprint, particularly in renewable energy. He made the economic case for concessional financing for small states based on unsustainable levels of debt because of repeated borrowings to rebuild and recover from continuous debilitation by natural disasters, arising from climate change. He also advocated for dismantling the false criterion of middle and high per capita income countries, which ignores the huge vulnerabilities that small states face. “This requires action to design new and innovative financial instruments and to provide debt relief, including debt cancellation, debt suspension, debt rescheduling, debt restructuring and debt-for-climate swap.” He also called for funding to compensate for damage to help reconstruct the AOSIS economies and funding to acquire decarbonized technologies to assist in building resilience. These demands are by no means new or novel but they require restating. Now is the time for more collective advocacy by AOSIS in the run up to the Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in December 2021.
Again as was the case at the Climate Change debates at the UN in September 2019, it was the voice of youth on the problem and the need to “Restore our Earth” that resonated through Greta Thunberg’s:
Professor Patricia Anderson shines a light on Masculinity and Fathering with implications for Reimagining Gender RelationsRead Now
Patricia Anderson Masculinity and Fathering in Jamaica
The University of the West Indies Press, Jamaica, 2021
This is a groundbreaking study of fathering in Jamaica but with importance for understanding the essence of gender relations in the Caribbean. It draws on the classic works and approaches advanced by leading sociologists and anthropologists including Raymond Smith (1956), George Roberts (1957), Edith Clarke (1957), Lloyd Brathwaite (1960), Michael Smith (1962). It also builds on the more recent work of Christine Barrow (1996) among others. Most important is the prominence it gives to pioneering unpublished and unfinished work of Professor Barry Chevannes and a study, Contribution of Caribbean men to the Family (1991) by Janet Brown, two excerpts from which are included in this book. This study carefully documents the range of the literature on the Afro-Caribbean family structure and gender relations in the Caribbean, the historical experiences rooted in slavery and the colonial system. It sets the scene for comprehending some key areas of research including sexuality, family building, outside children, domestic roles, conflict and violence, gender relations, men’s family bonds, their attachment to peer groups and the overall impact of these factors on the essential component of fathering. It highlights how fathering opens the rocky experience of being fathered, not fathered, or not very well fathered. These may joyous or painful.
Focus on Fathering
This book fills a void by drawing attention to patterns of fathering that hitherto have been scanty. It faithfully conveys the social worlds of fathers by illustrations of their unfiltered sentiments and views. In so doing, Professor Anderson produces material that is rich with fathering and parenting Identities. They challenge the anecdotal interpretations of the social worlds of Jamaican fathers. For example, they shatter the overwhelming opinion of male dominance that has often overshadowed the need to explore the factors shaping male behavior. It does this through community surveys and qualitative research that explore issues such as the essence of gender socialization of the average Jamaican father; and the failure to question the validity or cause of male absence from the "domestic sphere”. It seeks answers to questions such as: Can men be good fathers and bad husbands? How do men feel about their children, about women, their partners, their daughters, their own mothers and their fathering activities?
It is intriguing to note the methodology used in this study that relates fathering to gender relations by measuring two sets of values: fathering identity and macho identity. In this respect, the values of fathering depend on (a) whether they themselves were well or poorly fathered; (b) relations with their partners or “baby mothers" and (c) interactions with their children. There are other views that contribute to understanding what men contribute to their communities that make their lives and success as fathers?. These include their views of women, childbearing and gender roles.
The authenticity of this study is bolstered by its choice of locating its survey of men’s attitudes and values in four communities based on a range social class differences, with variations in family structure and implications for gender relations. What is fascinating from my understanding of the results of this survey is that:
The Intrigues of Masculinity
Another intriguing element of this study is its focus on masculinity. The construct here is: what it means to be a man against which to be judged by the community and which pressures men and boys to engage in conduct that reproduces social inequalities? The conclusion is that there is no single ideal but there are some common traits like breadwinner, control of emotions, being respected, avoiding feminism, risk taking, toughness, violence, heterosexuality and heterosexism. Masculinity also displays an expressed aversion to homosexuality and direct relations to homophobia. It is, in addition associated with a range of behaviors from sexual harassment to domestic and sexual violence and non-relational sex (without emotional involvement).
Convergence and Contradictions
What therefore emerges is the reality that Jamaican men cling to two sets of values —Fathering and Masculinity — which are inherently contradictory. In the former, the attributes of 'fathering identity' include involvement in parenting styles among which are challenges of discipline, time and talking together, teaching and nurturing. The macho identity is aligned to liming or drinking spots and the streets represent a sense of being in control, so essential to men. It is a form of social organization that is informal and not kinship based. While masculinity defines gender distinction and power relations between men and women, fathering focuses on the power relations with the husband-father role. But it is important to note that these distinctions tend to break down as more women enter the workforce and fathers take more responsibilities in the socialization of their children.
Professor Patricia Anderson must be congratulated for this outstanding work. It is essential reading especially as we contemplate further challenges to family life and gender relations in the persistent COVID-19 era and beyond. We are grateful for the wisdom portrayed in this book. It tells us that the main dimensions which fathers identified as being central to their role are responsibility, economic maintenance, love and emotional support, nurturing and setting an example. It identifies the consistency with which Jamaican fathers representing a range of social classes articulated their understanding of fatherhood. It establishes clearly that these values represent a common cultural core. What in addition this study brings to the fore is the impact of harsh economic conditions in unmistakable limiting the ability of Jamaican men to translate their fathering commitment into active and continuing involvement. This socioeconomic indicator is perhaps an important pivot in the reimagining of gender studies in the Caribbean which is the subject for a follow up discussion. Professor Anderson’s summary carried on the cover of the book provides the most sanguine conclusion:
“Across the social class Jamaican men share a common cultural conception of what is required to be a good father. However they are also tied to definitions of hegemonic masculinity which emphasize male dominance and virility so that domestic conflict maybe inevitable and men’s aspirations to be good fathers may become imperiled. Given these countervailing values there is a struggle to find a reasonable fit. The study concludes that it is possible for Jamaican men to be good fathers but bad husbands”
A Decade of Action in Building a Resilient Recovery:Caribbean Youth Leaders "Get It”Read Now
What a pleasure is has been to listen to the voices of Caribbean youth leaders at the 10th Economic and Social Council Youth Forum sponsored by the UN, April 7-8, 2021. It is clear that they "Get It." They advocated for building resilience, drive, creativity and leadership in participating in the decade of action to deliver the Sustainable development Goals (SDGs). In his opening statement to the Forum, H.E. Mr. Munir Akram, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) makes the case that: "The future belongs to you, the youth. We need your energy, your ideals, your boldness, your imagination, your innovation, to build the structure of a peaceful, prosperous and equal world order”
Youth in the COVID-19 Era: What are they responding to?
The Forum began on April 7th which coincided with World Health Day, highlighting the immense impacts that COVID-19 on young people around the world:
The forum also takes place in a year when COVID-19 has had multidimensional health, economic and social impacts globally. In Latin America and the Caribbean gross domestic product has declined 7-7% in 2020, poverty effects 231million people with an increase of 28.5 million people living in extreme poverty.
How are the Challenges facing Youth being tackled?
At the special Caribbean Youth Regional Table within the Forum (April 8) the panelists (listed at the end) highlighted the need to view good health and wellbeing in the broadest context of the WHO mission of health as embracing physical, mental and social well-being. In the Caribbean as in the entire Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, the challenge is the triple burden of food insecurity, malnutrition and obesity. The closing of schools for example, has had a negative impact on those vulnerable youth and households. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) Survey, 2020 for LAC shows that 31% of young people suffered from shortage of food with 16 percent from households without resources to buy food. In addition, 52% of young people expressed experiencing greater stress, 47% of having panic attacks during the lock down and more than 50% of those living with HIV stopped accessing antiretroviral treatment. There was also a recognition that the migrant populations were particularly affected due to structural victimization. These factors were compounded by a lack of adequate economic responses, largely due to the fact that many Caribbean countries are dependent on tourism whose revenue stream both for governments and the private sector, is highly compromised. The Youth Leaders were aware that the need to procure loans to cushion the economic crisis will increase the burden of debt repayment which their generation would have to bear. Consequently, they supported the new Special Drawing Rights proposed by the IMF. The dilemmas for many Caribbean countries are that they do not have a system of universal unemployment insurance and lack other adequate social safety net programs.
The Caribbean Regional Table pointed to comparable challenges resulting from the inequities in access to education that were magnified by digitization, resulting in an increasing number of less privileged children and young people being left behind. This level of vulnerability is even more so when the differently abled are added to the mix. Then there is a different dimension to digitization which plagues many Caribbean societies. Several processes that enhance more effective ways of doing business requiring digitization are lacking. These include implementing online banking, online accounting, and other financial and operational procedures. Even when they exist, uneven access again negatively affects the marginalized individuals and communities the most.
Why Caribbean youth "Get It"
The Caribbean Youth advanced several worthwhile recommendations which focused on 5 key issues each of which provided an understanding of the different youth platforms used to respond to the pandemic, the challenges and priorities related to specific aspects of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. They include:
The Caribbean Youth Regional Table Session concluded that these and other challenges, must be addressed comprehensively and coherently. They are the vitality of leadership capabilities by their active involvement in several initiatives for overcoming the challenges of COVID-19. They have advocated for the Caribbean to act collectively, engage youth in the policy formulation, and include youth more actively and less as tokenism in the business of the Caribbean Community. And through collective Caribbean action, they call for establishing the dynamics to foster international cooperation, especially by fully utilizing and strengthening the United Nations – the world’s only universal organization – and by reinforcing respect for its fundamental principles of Justice for All.
Reflecting on the history of youth development in the Caribbean, it is revealing that in 2018, the UN Secretary-General launched the first-ever UN system-wide Youth Strategy. This is 8 years after the Caribbean Youth Ambassadors strategy: The Eye on the Future was presented to CARICOM Heads of Government in Suriname. That strategy evolved in an era when many CARICOM Member and Associate Member States included CARICOM Youth Ambassadors in their country delegations to the Heads of Government Conference. More recently, CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin Larocque valiantly convened annual CYA Forums and the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV/AIDS sponsored a series of engagements involving CYAs in its Justice for All Programme. But significant results require activities designed to achieve, youth resilience be institutionalized and budgeted for. The current discussion of Caribbean Youth Leaders at the UN Youth Forum 2021, and their articulation for action toward sustainable development deserve the fullest attention by CARICOM Heads of Government. An appropriate message is delivered by the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres to the UN Youth Forum 2021. Watch the video:
Participants in the Caribbean Youth Leaders at the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Table
Dominique Noralez (Belize) & Java Sealy (Barbados)-- Co-Chairs
Franz George, Commonwealth Youth Council; Roshanna Trim, Caribbean Regional Youth Council; Representatives of Caribbean Youth Councils: Christopher Laurie, Kurba-Marie Questell, Pryia Khan , Claudia Taboada, Delano DaSouza.
The Miraculous Genius of Willard Wigan, Jamaican Born Artist of Small ThingsRead Now
I saw at first hand the miraculous micro-sculptures of Jamaican-born Willard Wigan at an exhibition, “Art in the Eye of a Needle” at the Parish Gallery, Washington, DC on January 3, 2013. It was an unbelievable revelation of the genius of the human spirit. Viewing this exhibition required a microscope. The intriguing story of a young boy in England whose teacher proclaimed him “a dunce, destined to go nowhere” and who emerged with highest acclaim in the World of Art is featured in the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (August 2020).https://dyslexia.yale.edu/story/willard-wigan/
In 2007, this young dyslexic and creative young man was decorated with one of the highest awards given to citizens from the British Government, a Member of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contributions to the Art Community. He has also recently been proclaimed in the Guinness Book of Record (2020) as having produced the smallest ever sculpture in the World. He attributes his success to his Jamaican mother who urged him to aspire to greatness through “small things” applying discipline in conquering physical and mental demands. Those of you who have not heard or read of Willard Wigan may find both the feature from the You-Tube production of his feats (below) a worthwhile investment of your time (you will encounter many ads during the You-Tube but should find it most rewarding to persevere to the end) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8cJAIzBs-U
GOFAD wishes you a happy Easter!
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.