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Denominationalism in Secondary Educational Development
Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2002

by Stephen Kangal

I am prompted to undertake the following assessment in view of a recent statement attributed to the Honourable Prime Minister Patrick Manning in which he hinted at a renewal of the terms of the Concordat relating to a possible re-introduction of the moratorium on the building of further denominational secondary schools beyond those already approved by the former UNC regime.

The denominational system of secondary education has made a unique and stellar contribution to the quality as well as the accessibility to secondary education in T&T compared to that of the state- administered system. Until the early 50's the colonial administration had only established QRC while the churches built 2 Naparimas, St.Mary's, Fatima and 2 Presentations (San F'do and Chaguanas).

QRC reigned supreme churning out the most eminent scholars of the land and the top bureaucrats with sustained challenges coming from St.Mary's College both in the academic as well as in inter col. By the mid-50's the churches added 3 Presbyterians, 2 Catholics (Boys) and several Convents. Accordingly by the mid-60's the denominational system of secondary education which had successfully transcended the consolidation period was poised for take off. The system experienced a moratorium and was stymied by the terms of a modus vivendi or the infamous Concordat. The power- hungry PNM and sovereignty- flaunting regime of the late Dr. Williams seemed bent on progressively commandeering and bringing all aspects of national life under the tight jurisdiction of the urban-based, centralised, state bureaucratic apparatus.

The Concordat introduced a moratorium in the further expansion of the denominational system of secondary education. It also institutionalised a discriminatory practice relating to the appointment of principals and some intake of students. The system of denominationalism in secondary education nevertheless has contributed to excellence in the delivery of education from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. They are in fact community schools administered by a board consisting of local citizens. The state is now attempting to use this tried and tested- approach in its system because of the success that it has hitherto achieved in the church schools.

The state undertook enormous investment in expanding the state network of secondary schools in plant, educational infrastructure and human capital in the form of Government Secondary, Comprehensive and Junior Secondary Schools. The system was based on wholesale importation of an English prototype beginning in the 70's. The system failed to deliver the goods or produce the quality graduates while the denominational system flourished.

What then are the driving forces, the underpinnings of the qualitative and quantitative successes achieved by the church-based system of secondary system in spite of the strong resistance to the system that festered in the mind of the late Dr.Williams?

In the post- 1962 period nationalism-unbound dictated that almost every aspect of national life should be appropriated by the state including the enterprises sector. State capitalism began to assimilate and to preside over the commanding heights of the economy.

By the late 70's the new denominationals represented by the Hillviews, Presentations and Convents began a spontaneous assault on the QRC fortress of academic excellence. Thus began the decline and fall of QRC.

Having attended Hillview and Naparima and taught at Hillview for 16 years I can testify to the well-known, not-so- secret driving forces of the denominational system. Initially most of these schools were administered by men and women of the cloth and the collar, predominantly ex-patriates but were succeeded by nationals of equal mettle, merit and dedication. These principals were high performers-focussed and devoted, caring father-figures. They were mature, excellent educational administrators endowed with broad visions for their schools and charges. They knew how to re-tool, re-engineer and to transform their organisations. These principals were glorified beggars in mobilising donations from the community for school expansion. They carved an environment conducive to learning and scholarship even though the physical plant and educational infrastructure were rudimentary. I commenced my sojourn at Hillview in an abandoned cow-shed in 1955 with no library, no science lab- only desks, chairs and a highly driven staff. They motivated and inspired their staff creatively as well as introducing a moral and spiritual-based environment which facilitated a quality-conscious total development of the individual. Priests/nuns did not have families to look after. Their families and destinies in life were their young, innocent, eager- to- learn charges.

The denominational system imbues a sense of ownership within the stakeholders of each schooling community that is translated into college loyalty and spirit. This closely- knit community consciousness did not sink deep roots in the State system. The denominational system is donations- based and benevolent deliberately involving parents, teachers and students in a genuine team-based tri-partite approach to schooling and education. The incidence of violence in schools, vandalism of school property and restlessness was largely absent.

The most critical factor in the equation is the large number of high-performing students from the elementary system who put these schools now branded as prestige schools as their first choice and who go on to achieve the outstanding academic as well as other extra-curricula successes.

Accordingly the perception of a caring efficient administration, a stable learning ambience steeped in morals/values, an atmosphere of an academic staff where teaching is regarded as a vocation and where the work ethic is high, a local administrative board, a tripartite educational strategy, a donations-based and funded community are the underlying driving forces for the outstanding successes achieved in the denominational system. No one should seek to dismantle this success story.

Governments in recognition of the stellar performance of the churches in education delivery has come full circle. The UNC regime (1995-2001) presided over the expansion of the network of denominational boards receiving state funds to embark on further expansion of the secondary system of education to accommodate the "education for all leaving no one behind policy".

There was until 2001 no agenda for using schooling to dispense political patronage as happened in the 60's and 70's.There was no penchant for power only for the glory of universal secondary education for all.

I now hear intonations of going back to the parochialism of the 60's.This would be a retrograde step.

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