Lost generations amidst free education

By Raffique Shah
July 12, 2017

Raffique ShahAnd we wonder why, in this land of plenty, we are seeing increasing numbers of young delinquents who invariably, in their middle to latter years, become dependent on the State for all their needs and much of their wants, some of them turning to crime as a rewarding enterprise that is the safest route to garnering, maybe amassing, wealth, faring better than their contemporaries who burnt the proverbial midnight oil, who sacrificed and struggled to earn an education they believed would equip them for life.

Two thousand of the 18,000 12 year-olds who sat the SEA examination scored marks so low-below 30 percent-they may have difficulty reading or writing their names, Education Minister Anthony Garcia revealed last week. What he did not say was how many more scored below 50 percent, maybe another 3,000, who will more than likely drop out of secondary school, unable to cope with the level of studies required to take them to success in the CSEC exams, which would barely qualify them for the lowest jobs in shops and fast-food outlets.

We can assume that to these 5,000 junior dropouts we can add another 2,000 who will abandon the education system before reaching CAPE level studies. So approximately 7,000 children between ages 12 and 18 join the ranks of those who are going nowhere, a lost generation, on an annual basis. Multiply that by 17 years, if we use the millennium as a marker, and we have a whopping 119,000 young, strong persons, ages 12 to 30, somewhere out there, surviving by one means or other, sponging off the State, or preying on their contemporaries who opted to study hard and work hard, or on older citizens who are their parents’ or grandparents’ ages.

Oh, they will all have smart phones, whether they bought or stole them, and topping up these extensions of their anatomies takes priority over eating. In the latter regard, by fair or foul means, they will find money to fill their bellies with junk food bought from the ever-expanding franchises that dish out death in daily doses that take 20-to-30 years to manifest itself in hypertension, diabetes or some such lifestyle disease.

The dropouts become prolific baby-making-machines, because apart from idling on the blocks, they have nothing better to do-so why not have sex, damn the consequences. Sexually transmitted disease? There are public health care facilities to deal with that. In any case, how long do they expect to live for: 30 is old in that netherworld.

Children? No problem: “de Govament” or some stupid non-Government organisation staffed by bleeding=hearts will take care of them. Housing? Build a squat from stolen materials on State or private lands, and nobody can move we. If they try to, we’ll run to whichever politician is in opposition and he or she will scream bloody murder, summon some human rights lawyer who will take our shack issue all the way to the Privy Council.

Okay, I am being facetious in treating with a very serious issue-our education system, the tens of thousands of children who plunge to their learning-deaths through the cracks, and end up living in misery, a fate-by-choice (mostly) that invariably impact the wider citizenry.

I’m not suggesting the system is anywhere close to perfect. But for all its weaknesses, it’s one of few in the world that offers free tuition from pre-school to tertiary-level institutions, at great cost to taxpayers. If anything, I think there is too much freeness.

It can be said that every student who applied himself/herself and grabbed the opportunities on offer, benefitted immensely. I read recently that the medical faculty of The UWI has produced doctors in such numbers there are insufficient internship places in the hospitals to cater for them. Other graduates are having difficulty finding jobs in their respective fields, and technicians face an energy sector that is not hiring.

So, at a time when we have a surfeit of tertiary-level graduates, we also have thousands of children who cannot get past primary-level education, which is unbelievable in this day and age when opportunities to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills abound. At the very least, everyone 50 years and younger should have a full secondary school education.

I paint a rather grim picture of the netherworld of dropouts from the system, but I assure you it’s not abstract art. It’s real. It exists not only in the ghettos and depressed communities, but also where I live and other districts I know well. I should add that this world of warped values spans the race-spectrum.

And always, the parents of the dropouts must shoulder most of the blame, just as those of students who excel share the glory.

Time was when it took a village to raise a child. That village hardly exists today, which is why families must care for their own, ensure that the children are educated, that they do not become another lost generation.

7 Responses to “Lost generations amidst free education”


  • There is nothing wrong in a percentage of children failing. Not everyone have the aptitude to learn or absorb information readily. My good friend was sent to teach in a government primary school. He said to me one day “boy ah does try me best but dem children head real hard”. Today with television, games and other distractions the door is wide open for the female population to excel. Boys tend to gravitate towards instant gratification produce by playing these electronic games. They sit down to study in few minutes they are totally bored. Genius is in the DNA not specific for any racial group. Either you have it or not, it helps considerably if your parents have a leather belt and is prepared to bring out the genius in you.

    Back to my original point about failing. Without the illiterate thieves and criminals our democracy would collapse. No crime or little crime would lead to a justice system that is no longer needed, police, judges, lawyers, bailiffs, transportation of prisoners (cost $200 million per year), prison officers etc. all gone. That would leave the highest budget in Rowley government (national security) competing with agriculture. The illiterates actual keep the economy alive.

    On the other hand your have the intelligentsia. Those whose years in academia produce the great fruits of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. These producers as honorable citizens who go on to create a eutopian society. If the nation only have these kinds of people what a nation this nation would be. But then who would work in the factories, or clean the garbage or buy the food (rich people are not spenders). Yes we need both classes.

  • Absent from this submission is vocational education where the cry for trades and skilled people in former years been answered by importing labour. The bias has been expressed towards professions in this article. Computer technicians, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, oil drillers, fabricators etc. do not have to go to the full extent of acquiring tertiary level education. I do remember the days where a particular politician could not even spell. Who can remember the platform speaker saying, vote for me and I will give you bred with a member of the audience shouting out you forgot the ‘a’, okay, retorted the politician ‘breda’. How many UWI grads today have the same problem of spelling? When an electronic technician reads a circuit diagram and effect repairs to an appliance he/she is certainly not a member of a lost generation. Sometimes agnostics do wear tainted lenses in understanding the meaning of simple words e.g., faith – the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. We have been blessed and given a free will by the Lord, how we use such is what differentiate intelligence from education.

  • For the school system to regain its glory there is a great need for investment. How many children can learn in a class with 30 – 35, on the low end, other children each vying for attention?? Class size must be reduced to around 15 for the teachers to be able to engage the students and offer serious guidance. Students need to have the doors opened by the abilities of the teachers and the teachers need to have the time to offer the students when the need is identified.

  • The problems in the education system at all levels in T&T are numerous. The traditional model adopted from the British but long abandoned by the British themselves is outdated and inappropriate for the educational needs of students in T&T.
    As early as primary school, the emphasis on rote learning and basic skills acquisition at the expense of creative and thinking skills is doing a disservice to our students. The SEA is an outdated tool for evaluating the achievement of students, whose entire futures are shaped by the results of one examination on one particular day. The ranking of students based on the results of the SEA examination is also an outdated practice. Furthermore the public display of winners and losers serves no useful purpose other than to inflate the egos of education ministers, principals, teachers and gloating parents. Continuous, teacher-based assessments should be encouraged. Students with learning problems should have access to psycho-educational assessments by school psychologists who should communicate results and learning plans to all teachers involved.
    A more productive task would be to analyse the results of the SEA on a school by school basis with the goal of identifying weaknesses and strengths in order to create a plan for improvement.

  • A research project in the US published the following findings:
    Alessi (1988) surveyed 50 school psychologists, proposing five possible factors that could explain lack of learning.
    They were:
    1. The curriculum
    2. Ineffective teaching and/or behavior management practices
    3. Ineffective school management practices
    4. Lack of home-based support by parents
    5. Physical and/or psychological problems affecting the child.
    The school psychologists produced 5,000 reports on children’s learning problems in that school year. These were later coded to determine to what factors their reports assigned the students’ educational problems. The attributions in their reports as causes of failure to learn were:
    1. Curriculum factors? None.
    2. Inappropriate teaching and behavior management practices? None.
    3. School administrative factors? None.
    4. Parent and home factors? 10–20%.
    5. Factors within the child? 100%.
    Although working and learning conditions could contribute to success or failure of students, factors within the child seems to be the primary causes of failure.
    The educational system in T&T does not provide the resources to diagnose the learning problems of individual students.

  • As far back as 1962 only 20% of elementary school students gained entrance into secondary schools, and an alarming 1% of secondary school students made it into post secondary institutions. Those who glorify the old days and how successful they were should be aware of these statistics.
    The difference between then and now is that agriculture, the apprentice system and family businesses absorbed many of those who failed, could not afford fees, or for whom there were no places in schools. We were also dealing with fewer students.
    The increase in student population, the provision of free education and the right to a place in secondary schools have all created a cluttered system, unchanged since the era of the Industrial revolution.
    Most of the youth problems which Shah describes in his article can be attributed to the failure of the system of education in T&T to provide accommodations for individual learners, to provide individual diagnostic psycho-educational assessments and to make radical changes to methods of instruction and assessment.

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