Government Senator Danny Montano may not have made a racist statement in the Senate last Tuesday but, in asserting that the United National Congress had deliberately engineered racial quotas at tertiary education institutions, he sailed perilously close to bigotry's wind. In his former and brief capacity as Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education, Mr Montano claimed that he had discovered a "diabolical plot" whereby the Dollar-for-Dollar plan was "very carefully designed to assist what I would cautiously describe as the natural UNC constituency." We are glad Mr Montano was cautious, for the mind boggles at what he might have said had he thrown caution to the winds. And, when challenged by Independent Senator Dana Seetahal to say whether he meant Indo-Trinidadians in speaking of a natural UNC constituency, Mr Montano suddenly became coy. "I will not be baited into making any racist statement," he said.
Mr Montano was also shy about the details of this "diabolical plot", and we suspect his reticence was quite deliberate. Because, had he been forced to back up his allegation with hard fact, it is likely that his own agenda, diabolical or not, would have been exposed. Consider, after all, the assumption behind Mr Montano's statement. He is in effect asserting that Afro-Trinidadians did not have the matching dollars required for the UNC plan, whereas Indo-Trinidadians did — and that was why the UNC hatched this plot. But even if the average Indo-Trinidadian household is better off than the average Afro-Trinidadian one — and Mr Montano would be hard put to find any statistics proving this — then the penury of Afro-Trinidadians is hardly a credit to the PNM government to which Mr Montano belongs. However, since this is not the case, the only alternative explanation, if Mr Montano is speaking the truth, is that the UNC administration turned down Afro-Trinidadian applicants in droves.
But, if this was happening, why did those turned away not voice their complaints at being rejected? As it turns out, Mr Montano's sole "evidence" for the diabolical plot was that 70 percent of the student ppulations at UWI and the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Technology were of Indian descent. That there exists a racial skewing in higher education is undeniable. But there is also a skew in terms of achievement at the primary school level, since the students who top the Secondary Entrance Assessment Examination come mainly from Hindu and Presbyterian schools. Or would Mr Montano also characterise this as a UNC plot? If the top 100-plus SEA students are mainly Indo-Trinidadian, then this naturally translates into over-representation at tertiary level. Besides, similar imbalances exist in many other societies where there is an Indian-descended populace - Fiji, Malaysia, South Africa, Guyana and so on.
This is because, for reasons of culture and the immigrant ethos, Indo groups often place a higher value on educational attainment. And that, rather than any political or racial plot, is likely to be the true reason for any racial skewing in tertiary education. However, the PNM regime is apparently convinced that the Dollar-for-Dollar disadvantaged its own "natural constituency". For this reason, they have replaced it with the GATE programme, in which students will not have to match the government's dollar. But we doubt this will correct any racial imbalances, unless the Government makes the great mistake of implementing some kind of affirmative action quota system. What does matter is that students who have the ambition and itelligence to pursue higher education should be given every opportunity to do so, regardless of race or any other irrelevant factor. And Mr Montano, newly appointed as Minister of Labour, should avoid raising racial bogeys as a method of demonstrating his solidarity with the PNM's natural constituency.
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