By Raffique Shah
November 3, 2017
A friend of mine, a Queen’s Royal College alumnus, no less, and an Afro-Trini, which is relevant only because of the theme of the discussion we had, having scanned the list of the 389 national scholarship winners, noted the demise of his alma mater in academic performance (and in sports, I should have reminded him), and more generally, the seismic shift in scholastic achievements from geographical, race and gender perspectives.
We are of the same generation, which means we experienced or knew of the glory days, decades in the case of QRC in particular, but also of acclaimed institutions such as St Mary’s College (CIC), Fatima, Bishop Anstey High School and St Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain, and Naparima College and Naparima Girls’ High School, as well as Presentation College and St Joseph’s in San Fernando.
Time was when the top performers came almost exclusively from QRC, hence, were boys. By the 1950s, a fierce rivalry for excellence developed between QRC and CIC, with Bishop’s and St Joseph’s, SAGHS in the East, and Naparima and Naparima Girls’ in San Fernando, as well as Presentation, sharing the spoils. Holy Faith Convent in Couva had carved a niche as the top performer in Central Trinidad.
In the 1960s, Presentation Chaguanas, my alma mater, which, in two previous incarnations had maintained reasonably high standards, became a force to reckon with. Hillview inserted itself into the equation around that time, too. And later, the Muslims established ASJA Boys’ in San Fernando, with Lakshmi Girls’, a privately-owned Hindu college, gaining Government-assisted status as recently as in 1994.
Having sketched the national secondary schools’ canvas historically—some of my dates and data may be inaccurate, I return to the scene of the crime, the CAPE results and awards of 389 scholarships. My QRC friend could not believe that the once-giant-of-a-secondary school, which boasts of alumni that are like a galaxy of stars, many of them now residing in the heavens, and those who are still around enduring the winter of their lives, could muster only four scholarships. Four!
True, its age-old rival CIC scored a paltry nine, Fatima a face-saving 14, and Bishop’s four. But that is little consolation to the no doubt badly-bruised egos of the glory-days alumni, especially when the President’s Medals’ winners were two Hindu girls (I’m assuming this based on their names), one from the newest school in the fray, Lakshmi Girls’.
Embedded in the demographics of the CAPE results and scholarship awards are two conundrums—the dominance of girls and the overwhelming performance of Indo-Trinis as an ethnic group. I am not qualified to even attempt to analyse these phenomena. I can say, though, that I was an early victim of girl-power.
At the Carapichaima E.C. School, in the exhibition class (1956-1957), try as I might, I could not beat Joyce for first place. In six term tests, I had to settle for second spot. My woes were compounded when I escaped Joyce after we both failed the College Exhibition exam and I moved on to Form 1A at the College of St Phillips and St James (forerunner to Presentation, Chaguanas).
Having enjoyed the one-two spots throughout primary schooling, I found myself cast outside of the top ten, flogged to frazzle by boys, mostly of ordinary means like me, who seemed to have eaten 1,000-watt-bulbs for breakfast every day! That class, which became Pres Chaguanas’ first Special Form, produced a string of scholars. Still, we did not win even one of the few scholarships awarded in 1961-1964.
I am sure our contemporaries at QRC did, though—which is why I take an almost perverse delight in pointing out to my friend that Pres Chaguanas, which has won the President’s Medal several times since, won 29 scholarships this year. That was not its best performance, but we can live it.
As we applaud those schools that did very well—ASJA Girls’ (8), Couva East Gov (6), Hillview (29), Lakshmi (24), Naps (21), Naps Girls (41). SAGHS (36), St Joseph’s POS (38), St Joseph’s San F’do (17), St Joseph’s St Joseph (19)—as a nation, we need to not just note the imbalances alluded to in this column, but to try and rectify them.
In spite of its many defects, our education system offers numerous opportunities to all: age, race, gender, there are no barriers. Some denominational schools may discriminate, but government schools don’t. Indeed, QRC is, or was, the finest example of a government school which, for decades, excelled in education across the race- and class-boards.
Shortly after his government established what is now Couva East Secondary in 1965 or thereabout, Dr Eric Williams, during an official visit, urged the staff and students to work towards making that model school “the QRC of Central Trinidad”. The school has always performed well, and recently, it has won scholarships.
The answers to the male-sub-performance dilemma and the ethnic imbalance in examination results may well lie in similar government schools, some of which have started to shine. Management, teachers, parents and students should take pride in awakening the giants that lie comatose in those classrooms.