By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 05, 2018
I don’t know if it was “the cleansing water” as I called it last week but all of a sudden the newspapers were filled with reflections on education and the role it should play in resuscitating our society. It was almost as though these profound meditations came down from heaven, demanding that we fulfill an age-old dream of togetherness.
The first iteration came from Iman Yasin Abu Bakr when he eulogized Ricardo “the Gladiator” Welsh. He observed: “Many children were full of rage and parents lapsed on the job of keeping them in school. He [Abu Bakr] stressed the importance of this saying education was the only chance a people had to elevate themselves” (Newsday, October 28).
Expressing his disappointment with an “older person” who “misled the young man who killed Gladiator,” Abu Bakr bemoaned that the younger person—he presumed it was a young person—who committed the act did not possess the intellectual capacity to question the misleading information he had received from an elder person—again a presumption—and which led to his (the killer’s) heinous action.
He concluded: “Because they drop out of school, they can’t read, and they can’t write, and they can’t understand. That’s why it’s so easy for them to kill each other. They can’t converse.”
Abu Bakr wasn’t original in this observation. He echoed a plea that Gypsy made years ago when he sang: “Little black boy, go to school and learn/Little black boy, show some concern/Little back boy, education is the key/To get you off the street and out of poverty.” (1977)
Both Abu Bakr and Gypsy saw the salvific role of education in the liberation of our people.
On October 28 Justice Frank Seepersad continued in a related vein when he spoke on parental and youth accountability at Marabella Presbyterian School. He lamented the miseducation of our children, our parents’ inability to assume their responsibility and the shortcomings of the educational system.
He said an educational system that turns out doctors, lawyers, engineers (skilled persons) at the expense of developing other aspects of their personality does not necessarily “assist in our national development needs.”
He lamented: “We have produced citizens with certification who lack a sense of citizenship and community. The existing system does not foster a continuing volunteerism, national identity or skills of interdependence. We need an educational overhaul and any educational reformation should incorporate a form of national service” (Express, October 29).
Justice Seepersad reminded us of the two Latin words at the root of the English word education: educare by which we mean “to train or to mold” and educere meaning “to lead out.” This suggests that any educational system must “mold and train the mind” as it leads one to understand one’s responsibility to the larger collective.
At its most felicitous level, an educated person must be trained to act purposefully in one’s society which goes back to what the old people said: “Common sense make before book.” This suggests that the acquisition of paper credentials means little if one cannot place one’s skills in the service of others and make where one inhabits a better place in which to live.
Just when I thought we had our fill of educational philosophizing, we were treated to the biting sarcasm and trenchant logic of Terrence Farrell who suggested that events over the last two weeks reflected “the crisis of education in this country” (Express, October 29).
He says that the Draft Education Policy Paper 2017-2022 put out by the Ministry of Education “makes depressing reading for its inability to confront the real problems of education.” He argued that “the document is not about our children” or “the parents who have first responsibility for the education of their children.” It is woefully short on “a philosophy of education for this country in the 21st century.”
On October 1, 2003, I delivered a lecture, “Learning and Education in Trinidad and Tobago.” I argued: “Education must be seen as the transmission belt through which we convey and implement the socially desirable outcomes of the nation.”
I continued: “We must organize our teachers, our parents and our communities around our students’ needs. If we do not claim our young men and women, the prisons will. African students cannot be saved unless they master writing, reading, scientific, mathematical and computer literacy. No educated person in the twenty-first century can exist without these skills” (trincenter.com).
Reading the observations of Abu Bakr, Seepersad and Farrell, one cannot but conclude that our educational system is in deep trouble, which is reflected in the degeneration we see in so many aspects of our lives.
I have spent my entire life in education—from a lowly pupil teacher at a village school to teaching, studying and lecturing at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. We could jump high, we could jump low: Unless we raise the social and cultural levels of our students no bad-John Commissioner of Police or well-meaning but misguided education plan can get us out of the rut we are in.
We need to listen to the wise utterances of our brothers. We have been dealing with this problem (or challenge) since our nation’s dawning. Next week I will talk more about this.