Eloquent excuses

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 17, 2023

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeTwo Fridays ago Chief Justice Ivor Archie offered his thoughts at the opening of the 2023/2024 law term. He complained of “the need for meaningful public sector reform as the current system with its structural and systematic deficiencies ‘is crushing us all’”.

He said he made a similar call during his 2019/2020 address but “up to now it seems as though the right people have not listened… Unfortunately, little has changed since 2019 in that regard… One should note that many of the frustrations that we experience are common to ministries and departments of the Executive and I know that some senior public officials are quietly chafing”. (Saturday Express, October 7.)

The CJ seemed to be gazing backward rather than looking forward as he sought to tell us about the problems of the Judiciary. He hoped his past frustrations would help him to understand tomorrow’s challenges. I wondered why “the right people” who did not listen to him in 2019 were likely to do so in 2023. What different outcome did he hope to achieve?

The same thing is true of our failing public schools (predominantly black and urban) that the Ministry of Education (MOE) hopes to resuscitate by offering mandates that are similar to those offered in 2017. Any serious analyst can predict that our failing schools will continue to do so during 2023-27. Both policies suffer from a lack of vision and necessary experimentation.

MS Swaminathan, an Indian plant geneticist, transformed India from “a chronically hungry nation and perpetual ward of foreign donors into one of the world’s largest food producers” (FT, October 7). As a student, he experienced the devastating Bengal famine of 1942-43 that caused the deaths of about three million people. He studied agricultural research “to help poor farmers produce more”.

He didn’t just complain about India’s unfortunate position “which new scholarship suggests was caused by the actions of the British authorities”. He devised a practical solution. After researching plant engineering in the Netherlands, completing a doctorate at Cambridge University, and doing post-doctoral work at the University of Wisconsin, he returned to India and put his ideas into practice.

Indifferent to the Malthusian theories of population growth versus food scarcity, Swaminathan cooperated with Norman Borlaug who won the 1970 Nobel Prize for his work on global food supply to solve the problem. They “imported seeds for a semi-dwarf wheat variety, which was higher yielding than that under cultivation in India and responded well to irrigation and fertilisers” and that secured their breakthrough in India.

Prof Swaminathan’s initiative suggests we might do some practical things on a smaller scale to achieve our objectives. Couldn’t we take three of these under-performing schools, give them the financial resources they need, and see what the outcomes are after two or three years?

We may want to use a combination of MoE teachers and outside experts/teachers to assist in this experimentation. We will also need strong leaders and the assistance of major corporations, large companies and banks, and informed individuals to determine what works and what does not. Necessarily, the teachers in this experimental school will undertake necessary innovations that are based on our indigenous cultural framework.

Some of us, me included, have worked in T&T’s education system as monitors, pupil teachers and assistant teachers. We have also taught black, Hispanic and Asian students at the university level. Might not some of those experiences aid us in tackling this problem? Some of us may be inclined to participate in such an experiment if invited.

As I pen these lines, I am attending Pa Gya!—a literary festival in Ghana—where I am giving three lectures this weekend. Pa Gya is the Akan word for “lifting up” or “fire”, depending on the tone in which one pronounces the words. Can this notion of “lifting up” and/or applying the necessary “fire” serve as an impetus to drive us forward?

The title of my first lecture is “Interconnections: Art & Culture in West Africa and the Caribbean”. Inherent in such a title is an examination of how our literature and culture link us with our West African brothers and sisters.

Necessarily, several questions arise. First, how can we use our indigenous cultures to advance our national objectives?

Second, why aren’t we using the talents that we possess?

Third, why does an education policy that endorses the Government’s “Patriotism Policy” (see Appendix C of the “Education Policy, 2023-2027) not do more to encourage willing citizens “to contribute meaningfully to one’s society”? We just might bring different perspectives and energies to the mix that improves the situation.

The Judiciary may also benefit by taking a broader look at the skills, capabilities and experiences of citizens in many walks of life—both global and local—as it tries to fix itself. This required change and project management, leadership development, and digital transformation can be done by caring citizens if they were asked. These are not primary skills of judges, but would significantly address case load management, document preparation, knowledge management, and create more easily searchable case repositories and shorter times to judgments.

Individually, none of us possesses the weapons to solve all our problems. Collectively, we may be able to theorise a black and brown consensus that allows us to see our way forward that just may bring some light to our darkness.