The transition from economies based on agriculture to economies based on manufacturing and service industries (tourism), as well as the opening of markets through free trade agreements (NAFTA, CARICOM, CBI, etc.), has revealed the lack of skills and training in broad sectors of the population of the Caribbean islands and has created a huge mass of unskilled, unemployed or underemployed workers and sectors that are highly dependent on aid from the welfare state or on payments sent home by emigrants abroad. This situation is particularly notable in the Greater Antilles, whose population represents 80 percent of the total Caribbean population, and particularly in Cuba and Haiti, two of the poorest countries in the Americas. For this reason, many economists believe that investments in human resources (education, training, and health and nutrition) are essential for the economic growth and development of the Caribbean region.

According to a study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the Latin America and Caribbean region (LAC) in 2010, “teaching of science and technology [in this region] is still not among the priorities in the educational programs and, more importantly, the policies, study plans, pedagogical methods and materials in scientific disciplines are often obsolete or uninteresting for the students and teachers.” Additionally, the LAC region also faces a paradox: while the median expectation of years of schooling in the region is comparable to the median in other middle and high-income countries (13.6 years in LAC versus 13.5 in the other middle and high-income countries), the percentage of the labor force with a complete secondary or higher education is respectively 4% and 8% lower than the average in those countries. Only 16% of the population in LAC has completed a higher education program, which compares poorly with 24% in the other middle and high-income countries.

At the same time, the LAC remains the region with the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world. Therefore, any attempt to combat poverty and unemployment through education will also require a more equitable system of wealth distribution in the region.

Beyond education, the involvement of the Caribbean economies in the global economy — in an “information economy” — also requires a substantial investment in research and development (R&D) activities and information and communications technology. The main consumable in any creative activity, especially those that involve scientific research, development of new technologies or implementation of productive innovations, is the availability of highly qualified human resources. However, Cuba is the only Caribbean island country whose investments in R&D exceed 1% of gross domestic product (in LAC, only three countries invest more than 1% of GDP in R&D activities: Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela). Additionally, 75% of all of the scientific-technological knowledge produced in the region comes from three countries: Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: March 20, 2012.

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