by Bukka Rennie
September 15, 2004
It is always amusing to hear people today engaging themselves passionately in either lamenting the alleged failure of one particular section of the population, ie Afro-Trinidadians, or praising the supposed supremacy of another section, ie Indo-Trinidadians, in the grand exercise of what passes as formalised education.
The loudest noises are to be heard each passing year when the GCE Advanced Level, as well as the CXC Ordinary Level, results are posted and national scholarships are to be awarded.
The denizens of the local newspapers fight each other in the quest to lionise this local student and that local student who "come first in the world or third in the world" in respective subjects, hoping thereby to score points that are of a quite dubious nature.
Much like how Dr Eric Williams used to be described, tongue-in-cheek, as the "third brightest person in the world" in the course of the furore of the nationalistic heydays.
It would be all so laughable if it were not that tragic. True to say there is really no contest. That grammar school education system has long since been rejected.
People of a divergent and an advanced social consciousness began rejecting and dropping out of that education process in the late sixties and early seventies, the very moment when the irrelevance of the system became crystal clear to young, eager, brilliant minds who neither wished to be priest, pastor, teacher or clerk, the most obvious choice of careers set aside for children of the working masses, the careers best suited to them working to maintain the status-quo and perpetuating the agencies of church, school and state.
The dropout rate from the education system, this "imperial schooling" as CLR first described it, since the 1970s has been tremendous, despite the fact that the availability of school places has been increased tenfold and billions of dollars have been spent in the last decade on building and renovating educational facilities.
There is yet to be established here a critical mass of truly educated people nurtured to take responsibility and be subject of their own devices.
What is this education process all about? We have maintained the colonial culture of seeing education as an imposition, a means of, say, opening someone’s head and pouring in knowledge and wisdom.
The only result that can come from this approach is a multitude of regurgitators and bright mimic men and women.
This is why there are so many bright people here, so many scholars abound, but nothing intelligent happens. The very first task is to turn around the concept of education.
Education is a process of self-activity more than anything else. It is about engaging oneself in a process of interpreting one’s own experiences within one’s own specific environment and as a result taking charge of designing policies and programmes that can bring development that is sustainable. "Sustainability" is the key to the process.
Much of what appeared to be "development" in the past could not be sustained because much of it was generated from outside. And it was never the intention or purpose of the colonial masters and the foreign imperialist inventors to transfer technology or to create the critical mass or huge strata of technical skills locally to be able to sustain what obtained before and generate the next phase of development and existence.
Our education system was never geared or designed to fulfil this most crucial requirement, and that is why it stands today as obsolete and irrelevant. Yet the editorial of one newspaper laments:
"...Where have all the Afro-Trinidadian scholars gone?" And it goes on to suggest that "...The 2004 list (of scholarship awards) represents the culmination of a trend in which Indo-Trinidadians have been superseding Afro-Trinidadians as the nation’s top scholars.
"In our view, this can hardly be a healthy development for our country, given the underlying tensions that exist between these two major ethnic groups. Because of this, it requires the focus of serious study and debate if the balance is to be restored..."
The reality is that many of our youth have gone beyond that grammar school education so suited to the dilettantes of long-time European metropolitan salons. To the extent that many on both side of the race divide, Afros more than Indos, have opted not to do the GCE Advance Levels but to ace the American SATs and seek entrance to engineering and IT and tech-voc programmes there.
The reality is that it was not the British grammar schools that brought modern development to Britain but the application of shop-floor intelligence to industrial systems.
That is the rationale behind the demand for the University of T&T as opposed to the UWI. This is why we went to build comprehensive schools hoping to break the hold of the grammar school tradition but instead the grammar school broke us and we failed to betray that culture.
The Government must continue to invest in the youth, because it is clear that if we are to achieve development that is sustainable, we must create layers and layers of skilled and trained people who can handle and probably even create modern technology.
Society cannot be built by doctors, lawyers and priests alone. Our percentage of people achieving tertiary and professional and technical levels is still too limited, hence the GATE programme and the speed with which the new university is being implemented to satisfy our technological and industrial requirements.
A technology institute has just been set up at the old Rum Bond in Laventille whereas the previous regime was talking about a mall.
Recently, also, a target was announced by Government to train over 20,000 through a new programme called the Multi-Sector Skills Training Programme (MUST), geared to at first boost the construction industry.
As much as $125 million has been earmarked to push this effort in this term of office, and all this is in addition to the other programmes such as HYPE, OJT, CCC, etc that have been running for the past couple of years.
Youths, particularly the Afros, have to take up the mantle. Enough said.
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