Tools of incompetence

“Excuses are tools of incompetence built on monuments of nothingness and those who indulge in their uses are seldom capable of anything else.”

I first heard this poem while pledging for the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.  It was customary for our big sisters to give us seemingly impossible tasks to complete, and we were not allowed to come back with an excuse as to why it could not be done.  Instead, we were challenged to approach the task analytically while quickly “thinking on our feet”.  We learned how to figure out a way to get the job done on time and within the constraints provided.

More often than not, it simply required looking at the charge from another angle while carefully paying attention to the words within the instructions.  The lessons I learned during my pledge period – how to think methodically; how to be patient and calm in the face of adversity – have carried me throughout my career and my life in general.

In today’s Bahamas, the critical skill set of analytic thinking is becoming a dying art.  Few of our people embrace reading; fewer still comprehend what they do read, and even fewer are able to take that knowledge and apply it logically to their lives.  Is it any wonder that so many of our people find themselves in perpetual chaos?

Truth be told, the problem is systematic.  The vast majority of our children are not taught to be analytical, particularly in the public school system. In fact, just the opposite is true.  The public school system of The Bahamas has been downgraded to an environment where the pull towards mediocrity is strong.  Although its students are as bright as anyone, their brilliance is suppressed by an educational system which requires nothing more of them than to grasp the basics.  And as we all know based on our national average, the majority of them are not even achieving that.

“99% of people are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre.”

~ Tim Ferriss

Since 2015, the government of The Bahamas has been making an effort to rescue outstanding Public School students from a lifetime of mediocrity through the Public School Scholars program.  The program awards students who have excelled in the public school system with academic scholarships to college.  Students are encouraged to pursue college education as never before, thanks to the hard work of program administrator Mrs. Monique Hinsey who leverages her experience to connect scores of public schools students with the scholarship opportunities available to them.  There is no shortage of bright minds in the public school system – many of its students are intelligent and have the aptitude necessary to enter college. However, one of the biggest obstacles for these students is the lack of finances.

Prior to the program, less than seven per cent of scholarships were being awarded to public school students who make up 75 per cent of the student population, and the number of public schools students applying for colleges was significantly lower than that of private/independent school students. The government is to be commended for this program which since its inception has given 354 less-privileged students the opportunity to enrich their lives through higher education.    However, so much more needs to be done.  What of the thousands others who pour into the jobless pool each year, some of whom are lacking the basic skills of reading and writing, not to mention other abilities that would make them employable, among them simple comprehension?

We complain about the unprofessionalism that is plaguing the civil service and increasingly some areas of the private sector as well.  Yet, we don’t seem to be able to make the correlation between an educational system that breeds incompetence and what we see happening in the workplace.  For too many of our students, suppression of creativity has hampered invention, although they are quite capable of it.  Many of them have fallen through the cracks, delivering only what was expected of them, which unfortunately was very little.  The system has enabled, or should I say disabled them with the ultimate excuse of why they cannot achieve more.

“All of us, more than we recognize, are products of the thinking around us. And much of this thinking is small.”

~ David Schwartz

Research has shown a connection between illiteracy and global inequality, as well as education as a key to reducing inequality.  A correlation has been identified between low scores in math and reading, and inequality between countries.  Likewise, a link exists between lower average science, math and reading scores and inequality.  The connection between educational achievement and high aspiration is a key explanation for the correlation between low educational achievement and inequity.   If The Bahamas is to maintain relevance in this rapidly changing world, success can only be achieved by revamping our education system to encourage analytical thought, ingenuity and resourcefulness in our students.  Our individual, national and collective dreams must become bigger than our excuses.

There are really only two options before us: make progress or make excuses, and the choice is clear.  You can have results or excuses, not both.