Regionalism in the Caribbean
In many Caribbean countries, students are taught to be so-called “ideal Caribbean persons.” This phenomenon is of interest to some educational researchers because this discourse defines a Caribbean person instead of, say, a Jamaican person or a Haitian person. What this suggests is that a regional social imaginary has usurped the long held need by state governments to cultivate a national imaginary through public schools.
So why has there been an increasing emphasis on regional level collaboration and reform initiatives in education that have resulted in or attempt to build regional social imaginaries?
My guest today, Dr. Tavis Jules, an Assistant Professor of Cultural and Educational Policy Studies at Loyola University Chicago, argues that the the rise of the Caribbean educational policy space was driven by various regulations constructed by supranational organizations and institutions and then implemented at the national level. He studied this convergence by comparing the discourse in policy documents at the regional and national level.
Tavis’ most recent book, Neither world polity nor local or national societies: Regionalization in the Global South – the Caribbean Community, was published by Peter Lang Press in 2012. Tavis speaks on FreshEd about his latest article on the Caribbean Educational Policy Space, which was published in the November issue of the Comparative Education Review.
Citation: Tavis, Jules, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 4, podcast audio, November 16, 2015. https://freshedpodcast.com/tavisjules/
Will Brehm 1:34
Tavis Jules, welcome to FreshEd.
Tavis Jules 1:36
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be on.
Will Brehm 1:40
By way of introduction, how did you become interested in educational regionalization, specifically within the Caribbean educational space?
Tavis Jules 1:51
That’s a pretty interesting question. Educational regionalism is a concept in which I coined to explain the political project of regionalization and the influence of the political project upon national educational systems. I was born and raised within the Caribbean. And I was a product of our forefathers struggling for a different way to achieve economic development. And so from the outset, they were interested in achieving development, because they’re small island states or small states, through different forms and forums. And regionalism ultimately became the best way in which they thought that these small states can band together and achieve this economic might, this great sense of modernization. And so in me thinking about the impact of regionalization for national educational systems, it got me thinking if it’s a very distinctive or special form of regionalization that exists within the Caribbean community CARICOM, and the 15 member states that make up this community, and their five associated members. And so as I was thinking about how, when, where and why political projects are constructed, and the ways through which they’re constructed, and why they’re constructed, it started getting me to think about who is regionalization for? What are the goals and objectives of regionalization? But more importantly, what of them within the perspective of what we refer to as the functional spaces. And these functional spaces are the space inhabited by education, security, health, etc. And so in coming up with the term ‘educational regionalization’, it was a way for me to rethink the political space in which education exists, and how that is aligned to educational regionalism, which is the empirical process of economic flows within these geographic spaces.
Will Brehm 4:12
One of the terms that we often hear when we think of Caribbean educational space is this notion of the ideal Caribbean person. How did this conception emerge?
Tavis Jules 4:26
The conception of the ideal Caribbean person emerged in 1997 at the regional level. At that point in time, regional leaders across the Caribbean were trying to think about the attributes in which the Caribbean person, regardless of where they’re from, whether it’s the island state, or they’re from the coastal areas of Belize or Suriname or Guyana. Regardless of where they’re coming from, what it is that makes them uniquely Caribbean. And how do they identify themselves as a Caribbean person? And so it was a push in the mid 90s, as a way to bring a more human-centered approach to economic regionalization after the project had stalled and remains stalled, to this day in many different realms. And so they came up with these core attributes that each citizen, or each Caribbean national, regardless of which island state or mainland territory they were coming from, should have. And so education systems were expected to gear their respective citizens in ways that allow them to exhibit these attributes. And so the attributes are well-rounded attributes in the sense, you know, to be gender friendly, to be fair, have a sense of responsibility to one’s community in one’s environment, and so forth. And national governments were the ones responsible for ensuring that their citizens had these attributes. And the ultimate goal for the ideal Caribbean person is that that person can work and live in any of the 15 member states of CARICOM, based on the free movement of labor under the Caribbean single market economy that came into effect in 2006. So it was really an idealized concept that has been growing and we see that in the idea that wherever you come from you are first and foremost a Caribbean person, and then you’re a national of a specific territory.
Will Brehm 6:39
How did the ideal Caribbean person manifest inside a particular education system, inside a national education system? Is there an example that you could point to?
Tavis Jules 6:52
Well, yes, there are several manifestations of the ideal Caribbean citizen in national documents. And so what has happened, and I think here’s perhaps one of the major arguments of the paper is that whether or not the regional has replaced International, and I’m happy to discuss that further. But in looking for specific instances of the ideal Caribbean person within national educational policies, we find them because policy making within the Caribbean, even though it’s made at the regional level, implementation is left up to national governments. And so the way in which Caribbean educational policy is made and the space in which it inhabits is very different from the European space. Whereas in the European space, that’s made primarily of policy decisions or made primarily on supranationalism. Within the Caribbean spaces, even though something is made at the regional level, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee adoption at the national level because the principle of sovereignty still holds sway among these small members. And so the manifestation of the ideal Caribbean citizen in national policy documents represent two things: it represents either the discursive use of random regional concepts that we can find nationally, or it means that national governments were and are actually taking it seriously as they think about moving towards deeper economic integration within CARICOM. And so oftentimes, what I found is that many national policies were also very explicit as to how they plan on creating citizens who can be national in their identity, regional in their scope and work ethic, and global in the sense of having a certain set of skills.
Will Brehm 9:00
Right. So the discourse that gets adopted by these national policy documents is perhaps forming some sort of a consensus around the ideal Caribbean person, but the material practice can be dramatically different inside classrooms, inside school systems. Is that correct?
Tavis Jules 9:22
It is correct, because at the heart of the concept of the ideal citizen is that it speaks to values that are very extremely broad. You know, it talks about this idea of psychologically secure; this sense of having a strong sense of ethnicity, religion and other form of diversities. It says that students should be environmentally astute, and they should be responsible and accountable to family and community. You should have a strong work ethic. You know, be ingenious and have an entrepreneurial outlook. Respect cultural heritage, and exhibit multiple literacies, and critical thinking. And more importantly, they should be able to apply science and technology when needed. And so you can see, these are very broad areas that they’re talking about. But the goal behind having the concept or the notion of an ideal Caribbean person is that ultimately, regardless of which island you end up working on, living on, across the region, there’s something else that binds you together, that makes you Caribbean. A second reason for this is that it’s the understanding that Caribbean development is no longer something that is national in scope and focus. It’s also something that is regional and I think over the past 20 years or so, the region has started slowly embracing the idea that a Guyanese with a Trinidadian mother and a Jamaican father working in the Bahamas, is ultimately working towards bettering the region as a whole. And so that person is not just seen as a Guyanese who has migrated or immigrated to that country and causing a brain drain. In essence, what this concept does is it says, irregardless of where you’re from, and your historical background, the fact that you stay in the region, and the fact that you are willing to develop the region, it means that by developing one island, all the islands develop at the same time.
Will Brehm 11:33
In your opinion, is the concept problematic in any ways?
Tavis Jules 11:40
That’s a very good question. I think that the concept is problematic in some aspects, because like much of the discourse across the region, it is only used to legitimize existing policy decisions or new policy decisions. So, currently across the region, they’re working on the new human resource development strategy as to what human resource development would look like. And the core concept that they’re growing upon is this idea of developing ideal Caribbean nationals. On the one hand, it’s easy to talk about developing the ideal Caribbean person, because there’s one centralized unit that administers the post secondary school exam, which is the Caribbean Examination Council, and they have been around forever. And many of the national systems, you know, look to CEC, the Examination Council for guidance, in terms of their curriculum and development. And so over the past few years CEC has been pushing how to teach or how to educate for the ideal Caribbean person. So that’s in the positive side of it. But on the other hand, slowly the region’s also recognizing that there is more external influence that is coming into the region that young people are starting to identify with. And not many young people can identify with being, or being seen, as an ideal Caribbean person. And so often you get notions of global citizenship or global mindedness come into conflict with developing the ideal Caribbean person given how close the region is both to South America and to the US.
Will Brehm 13:35
And you talk about how nations have retreated, in a sense, to the regional level compared to embracing globalization. Can you talk a little bit about this idea of the gated global, as you call it?
Tavis Jules 13:55
Yeah, this is a very important concept. The idea of the gated global in simple terms simply means the retreat towards protectionism, and more the retreat towards trading among states within a same geographic area. The notion of the gated global starts off with a problematique that recognizes that globalization as we know it has paused. It has paused in a sensethat it is stagnated and I think people are frustrated about the returns that globalization has not brought. And one of the global trends that we’re seeing – and the trend has more to do with the fact that in the past 10 years, there have actually been more regional preferential trading agreement or more regional trading agreement, RTAs, that has been signed at the regional level than we have have had at the global level. And so what this means is that you have a proliferation of new either custom unions or single market unions or economic unions that are forming, where member states or individual countries are members to several of these economic blocks. And so what I am seeing is this partial one within … what I’m seeing is the pausure of globalization. And I’m also seeing that more and more regional trading agreements are being made at the regional level, and not so much at the international level. And so I would say, with this rise towards protectionism, we’ve seen the rise of the gated global. Sorry, the gated regional.
Will Brehm 15:52
The gated regional, right. And you use regime theory to kind of help explain this difference. Can you give an introduction to regime theory, and the term that you coin “transregional regime”?
Tavis Jules 16:10
Yeah. I think one of the earlier, kind of, battles I was having with myself is, how do you describe the form of policy making that you see at the regional level? How do you explain the sense of policy making? And what does it mean to education? And so, I think, for me, I started out from the perspective of trying to ask myself does regionalization, which is the political political project, as compared to … Let me rephrase that. I started out with the assumption of asking myself: Does regionalism, which is a political project, influence regionalization, which is an imperial process? And how do I explain this influence upon national educational systems, if at all, there is an influence? And in trying to understanding the impact of the region upon the national, one of the things it also got me thinking about is: Does the regional affect the national more than the international affects the national? And so this got me trying to figure out: How am I able to conceptualize this? And then, stumbling across regime theory, which basically define a regime as a set of principles, norms, rules and decision making procedures around which actors, expectations, converge in any issue area. It allowed me to be able to explore which level – either the international or the regional level – is more impactful upon the national level.
And in doing so, I took the definition of regime theory and I looked at much of the work; how our regime has been defined. And in many instances, regimes are often defined in relation to talking about organizations and the various levels of organizations. And I start to apply this concept to a regional institutional organization, the Caribbean community. And I started to think about, How it is this organization is functioning from a regional perspective? And the first thing that I realized is that the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, even though it has the same aims and scope as the European Union, it functions very differently from the European Union because it does not have this sense of a supranationalauthority. And that’s one of the main deficits of the Caribbean community. It maintains this archaic system of ‘one country, one vote’ that protects its sovereignty. And as part of that, it specifically states that policies adopted at the regional level does not have the direct implementing force at the national level until national governments ratified or acceded through the National legislatures, which is very different from the European Union. And so, in trying to understand what that structure means for national educational system, I apply this concept and came up with this idea of a transregional regime. And in defining a transregional regime, the main focus that I had in my thinking at that point in time is: How do I talk about something that is vastly different from the European Union, but yet at the same time it holds so much promise?
Will Brehm 20:07
You were just speaking earlier about the use of transregional regime theory. And I just wanted to know, can you give us an example of educational regionalism from your research that can exemplify the regime theory that you talk about?
Tavis Jules 21:22
Sure, Will. When I think of an example of a transregional regime, the one that comes to my mind immediately is CARICOM. And so I defined trans-regionalism partly to fit within the unique structure of CARICOM, because CARICOM is so distinctive, and we can spend hours talking about it. But it’s so distinctive in the sense that the broader organization with 15 members also have a sub-organization called the Organization of Eastern Caribbean Countries,which has its own currency, judicial mandates, its own coordination, etc. And that sense of a small being part of a larger whole is not only what makes CARICOM different, but it’s also what lends itself towards being seen as a transregional regime. And when I think of a transregional regime, I am thinking of others, I think the first thing that I look at is defining it. And I define a transregional regime as a large interregional organization, one whose members are sovereign countries, contributing to the development of that through various regional mechanisms and processes. I think of it as an organization whose main goal is to facilitate the exchange of policy ideas, but it also acts at a multilevel governance perspective. It also has the ability to respond to national, regional and transnational economic processes. But at the same time, its common goal is to create a region, and policies, and frameworks that not only benefits its member states, but it also provides a sense of common institutional frameworks, consensus building, etc, that ultimately coordinate the expectations of all the actors involved. And so that is what I think of a transregional regime. And so I think from that definition, not only can we talk about CARICOM as a transregional regime, we can also talk about ASEAN as well. And here, the main crux of the argument is to partly mix a transregional regime. It’s its ability to coordinate multi level processes that are foreign, regional or domestic, at the same time to be able to buffer it from the external influences.
Will Brehm 24:07
And hence the gated regional.
Tavis Jules 24:09
And hence the gated regional. Correct.
Will Brehm 24:12
Switching gears, here. Can you talk a little bit about your methods? How did you approach researching the Caribbean educational space?
Tavis Jules 24:23
That’s a very good question. Methodologically, for this paper, I drew extensively on national educational policies from across the 15 countries of CARICOM over a time period of 1990, all the way to the present. In addition to doing a content analysis, I also did interviews with people who had been working at CARICOM, from since 1990 had been working in education. And ultimately been able to see the evolution of national policy making from the regional perspective. And so one of the things I started with methodologically is, as I said previously, I was interested, when I was doing this study, I was interested in finding out whether or not the regional level was more influential upon national policymaking, or whether the international level was more effective, or more influential, upon the national level. And so in making a distinction between seeing which level was more influential, one of the things I started off by looking at – and it’s one of the methodological techniques I developed for this article, – is by trying to measure what is referred to as a quality reference or congruence. And that is the establishment of a valid statement that exists in one document and measure to see whether or not that statement exists in another document. So I’ll give you an example: So methodologically, we have three characteristics. The first was, we collected all national educational policies from the 15 member states of CARICOM, from 1990. We collected all regional policies from CARICOM itself, there’s only been one regional educational policy ever made from the regional level, and that was done in 1993. And it’s still in use at the regional level. And then I used 1990 as the benchmark and collected Education for All. So the outcomes and the goals of Education for All. And what we did is to look and see: Whenever we read national documents, whenever we read the regional document, whenever we read the international document, who was making the most reference to what. So were national documents referencing more regional themes, ideas and policy frameworks or were national documents measuring more international frameworks, themes, and policy perspectives?
Will Brehm 27:25
So is CARICOM more than a discursive regime? Since you’ve been looking at policy documents mainly, and looking at how the discourse is working in terms of these quality references, I think a critique that could come up is that, in a sense, you’re missing the material reality of what’s actually going on in these different educational spaces.
Tavis Jules 27:49
By all means, and I think that’s a very valid question, Will, and it’s also a very valid criticism that I can see coming up. One immediate response I have to that is that in thinking about the manifestation of discursive patterns, one of the broader outcomes, or one of the broader ways I sought to conceptualize this study, goes back to I think one of the most simplest questions in development, and I think that is whether or not all countries go through the same stages of development. And so Rostow tells us that countries go through traditional, then they move from being a traditional society, then at some point in time they take on the precondition for takeoff, then they take off, then there’s the drive towards maturity, and ultimately, they’re in the age of high mass consumption. And for me, what I was interested in understanding, is whether or not development was this linear process. Do all countries have to follow these particular steps that Rostow expounded in the 1960s? Or can it be that countries can jump into the development process at any point in time along the way, and they can move in and they can move on to the development process? And in linking that back to a potential criticism of the work, is that, Yes, I think that countries can move in another development process. And what I think the paper argues is that because if we look at the development process from the discursive level, we can see that the ideas are all the same. We can argue that there’s a sense of commonality. We can even see that we might have a sense of educational isomorphism, but the way in which that isomorphism comes about, I think it’s very different from the way in which institutional theory within our field has argued that isomorphism comes about. And the difference is, is that when we look at the various policy cycles in which different educational systems are situated, we find that the mechanisms or what I talk about the policy tools, that which they seek to employ during different policy cycles, not only do they do those tools change, but in many instances, they build upon the pre-existing tool that they’ve had before. And so I would say, because of that, even though I measure it, at the discursive level, it still speaks heavily to implementation and practice because we see the sense of countries continuing to build upon the past while thinking about the future.
Will Brehm 30:54
You’ve said that your research question, kind of beginning through this whole project, was about trying to understand if the region has more influence on the nation than the international. And after doing all of this research, what are your conclusions?
Tavis Jules 31:15
I think that the basic conclusion that I have at this point in time, is that, yes, globalization, as we know it has paused. And two, there has been a retreat towards the regional level. And with the retreat towards the regional level, yes, I would say at this juncture, the regional level has a more significant impact upon the international level. And I say that by speaking to the regional level, I would say within the Caribbean, South America, Central America, and the ways in which they defined themselves. I think the point that I’m making as to why the regional level it’s been more impactful than international level is that currently as we stand, that part of the world is being neglected. It’s not getting the type of conversations from the West that they would like to get as the US continues to pivot towards Asia. And over time, what these countries have collectively have done, they have sought to re-envision the various type of regional hemispheric trading blocs that exist. And so we have old trading blocs that exist such as CARICOM. But we’ve also seen the proliferation of new trading blocs, such as ALBA, we’ve seen the rise of UNASUR, we’ve seen the rise of CELAC. These are all new trading blocs that have established within the last five years. And they all have, their similar mandates are still deeper economic integration or the ability for free movement of labor and skills across these various spaces. And so I would say that now the regional level is more influential than the international level, because the sense of being able to identify with your neighbors, being able to see concerns similarly, I think nation states are really starting to relate to that. And they’re saying, well, the international can’t really teach me anything. And the international is only good for one thing and that is in the money.
Will Brehm 33:41
You have been educated in the Caribbean space, and now have gone on to research it. What are some of the biggest surprises that you’ve uncovered in this process?
Tavis Jules 33:55
I think one of the biggest surprises that I’ve encountered during the process as a whole, and that is having lived in and worked in and having a significant amount of my education within the Caribbean educational policy space, is that the functional aspects of regionalization work more than the economic aspects of regionalization. And that means traditionally, regional entities such as CARICOM have been criticized by pundits as being a place where people just go and they talk and they talk and nothing happens. So you don’t see the fruits of regionalism. And I think for me, the biggest surprise that I had was how much the functional aspect, what we refer to as the non-economic aspect of regionalism, exists and it’s propelled across the region. In the sense that it makes concepts such as the ideal Caribbean citizen, problematic, but it also helps to maintain a core sense of culture and identity and heritage with those concepts. And it also has helped me to understand why it is that, I think, Caribbean people continue to move, the reasons for them to move but also the type of rich culture and an ancestry that exists there that continues to flourish in light of the problems of economic integration. And I think that is one of the reasons why I sought, as a way to capture this discursive space, but also trying to show that over time, even though the space evolves over time, the one core thing that runs through the space is functional cooperation. And so when I talk about regionalism as a political process, and regionalization as just a tool to be used, I think I’m able to see that through functional levels that they’ve made headway in these fields.
Will Brehm 36:28
Tavis Jules, thanks for joining FreshEd.
Tavis Jules 36:32
Thanks for having me, Will.