Ishmael Roett – A Man of Many Hats – And One Wig!

Ishmael Roett has helped to change the lives of hundreds of boys by giving them a second chance. He started ‘The O Level Institute’ in 1971, which gives the highest standard of teaching to young people in Barbados.

Many students, who have failed in the formal school system, have passed their O Levels, CXCs and A Level qualifications at ‘The O Level Institute’, and have then gone on to get Degrees and even Masters. In addition to this huge contribution to Barbados, Ishmael served as Speaker of the House for fourteen years.

Ishmael started life in St Michael, the youngest of four in a very poor family. Ishmael was the only child in his family to go to secondary school, in fact he won himself a place at the highly regarded ‘Combermere School’.

And this was not all, he also went on to achieve a degree in English and Economics and a Diploma in Education. Right from the start of his astounding educational journey, Ishmael had a burning desire to be a teacher, so he went back to the school that had nurtured him, started to teach and still does today.

“I have been teaching since I left ‘Combermere School’. I joined the staff of ‘Combermere School’ in 1963 and have been a teacher all my life with the exception of the time I was Speaker in politics.”

While teaching, Ishmael saw that many young people were leaving school without any qualifications which could have devastating effects on their future. He also knew that private tuition fees were extremely high, too high for many of these young people to afford.

For this reason Ishmael decided to start a special school that gave young people the chance to receive a high quality education and give young people who had failed in the formal school system, a second chance. He collaborated with some friends and started ‘The O Level Institute’.

The O Level Institute‘ has helped thousands of students get their basic qualifications, many of whom haven’t done well in the formal school system. One such student, Michael Crawford, worked as a groundsman in a school, had never even been to secondary school, and came to ‘The O Level Institute’ for a second chance.

‘The O Level Institute’ helped him get his A Levels and afterwards he went on to get a degree and became a teacher. He has now also got a Masters Degree.

Another student who attended ‘The O Level Institute’ had been thrown out of secondary school. He passed his exams whilst at The Institute and after this The Institute paid for him to do a course in journalism. He passed this course and went on to work for ‘The Nation Newspaper’.

After this he went to America and got a degree, came back to Barbados and did his Masters Degree and then achieved his Doctorate! He is now a professor at ‘Howard University’!

Many of Ishmael’s other students have gone on to become lawyers and teachers.

“We encourage all our students to continue their education either at community college or at university. Our motto is: Education is a never ending process.”

Ishmael has also taught at the respected ‘Erdiston Teachers College‘ for twenty years. Here, teachers from all over the Caribbean are taught how to teach effectively.

“That was the high point of my teaching career – I really treasured being able to influence teachers, to teach teachers. I was very proud and pleased of that position.”

The other high point of Ishmael’s career was being elected to serve as ‘Speaker of the House‘ in 1994. He was voted in unanimously by every member of parliament and the opposition!

“I served as Speaker of the House from 1994 – 2008 moderating parliamentary debates in a fair and unbiased way. I suppose they wanted someone with authority and I fitted the bill as a teacher by trade.”
Ishmael’s advice to other teachers is to,

“Get qualified. First of all you need to get your A Levels, then possibly a Degree, but most importantly you need to get your teacher training. I believe that teachers need to be trained. It is not just an ordinary job whereby you can just walk in and do it.”

Ishmael strongly advices Barbadian ‘wannabe’ teachers to get trained at ‘Erdiston College’, which has provided outstanding training to teachers throughout the Caribbean since 1948.”

Today the Government is training teachers before they go into the classroom; however Ishmael divulged that it hasn’t always been this way.

“In my time most of the teachers were being taken from the schools and then trained, but now you have to train before you teach in the classroom.”

Another thing that prospective teachers need to be aware of is how much information is now available to students on the internet.

“Now with the coming of the electronic world teaching has taken on a whole new perspective. Many of the people we teach are more knowledgeable and that’s something you have to recognise.”

Today Ishmael is the principle of ‘The O Level Institute’ full time as he no longer serves as Speaker of the House. Ishmael has big plans for the institute which he revealed in our exclusive interview,

“The O level institute is planning a huge expansion in 2012. We plan to start teaching practical skills from mechanics to hairdressing.”

The new arm of the institute will teach practical subjects that lead to practical jobs, which are in demand in Barbados.

Ishmael’s booming, authoritative voice and calm, kind manor make you feel totally secure and inspired – a winning combination for someone who is going to continue guiding the youth of Barbados towards a bright future.


About Totally Barbados (Edit profile)

Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow online businesses with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.