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Cape Assists Break With Colonial Past
Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2004

by G. F. Alleyne, Newsday TT

The Ministry of Education announcement this week that 19 of the country's secondary schools had applied for their students to write the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) later this year, although shorn of emotion, represented perhaps the most critical step yet in Trinidad and Tobago's break with its shameful colonial past. Another step had been made years earlier - the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Ordinary Level examination - in preparation for CAPE to replace the Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level examination by 2005 as the country's official standard requirement for students to access tertiary education. The importance of next year's replacement by CAPE of the Cambridge examination, as crucial to the Caribbeanisation of our education system and with it the instilling of a new sense of achievement in our young people, must be clearly understood.

When the Queen's Royal College (QRC), sucessor to the Queen's Collegiate School, was established in 1870 on the recommendation of Patrick Keenan, an Irish School Inspector sent out by the United Kingdom Government, it was patterned after English public schools. Dr Eric Williams, Trinidad and Tobago's first Prime Minister, and himself an old boy of Queen's Royal, would say in a Message on the occasion of QRC's Centenary in 1970 that the college had been " an elitist institution." In the early days of Queen's Royal and incidentally of St Mary's College, which had been affiliated to QRC, boys were taught, among other things, Latin, Greek and English History and a feeling of apartness had been tacitly encouraged. At the Alma Mater, West Indian History (as it would be called) would surface as a subject taught much later, and not given anywhere near the importance of English History. In addition, West Indian History was largely the history of the English in the Caribbean, and the first Master at Queen's Royal to do in- depth research into the history of the West Indies, all of this outside of the books prescribed and pass on the benefit of this research to students, was Eric Kirton. Meanwhile, the country's education system, controlled and directed by Englishmen who could not see the wisdom in including on the book lists selected for English literature, books written by Caribbean authors, lumbered colonially on.

Secondary school students of a mere few decades ago who held, because of their English and English oriented Masters and teaching, suchs camps and pirates as Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and others to be heroes, were dismissive of Toussaint L'Ouverture, Alexander Bustamante, Tubal Uriah Butler, Adrian Cola Rienzi, Aime Cesaire, Grantley Adams, Norman Washington Manley, Dr, Cheddi Jagan, Clement Payne and Robert Bradshaw. In turn, they were taught, and many believed, that had the British and other Europeans not colonised Africa, India and the Caribbean that their people would have been absolutely poor and engaging heartily in internecine warfare. Walter Rodney and his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa would come later. So, too, would CLR James and his Black Jacobins; Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth; Dr Eric Williams' Capitalism and Slavery, and the list is endless. It is only within relatively recent years, and largely with the advent of CXC examinations that meaningful attention has been paid to Caribbean History, Caribbean authors and Caribbean achievement and achievers. Vocational training (save for Woodwork), training in skills development, in entrepreneurship were out. Home Economics, which today has a respected place in the Caribbean education Sun, was relegated to the position of being taught only in or for Primary Schools, as Domestic Science, and even then largely to the girls of lower income families.

Still on the subject of vocational training, this was a no no (again with the exception of Woodwork) for the country's secondary schools, where students revelled in being able to quote Virgil's Aenid at length, and for whom passages from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It et cetera, et cetera tripped readily off the tongue. Its centre was the Royal Victoria Institute, and it was not until the establishment of the San Fernando Technical Institute and the John S Donaldson Technical Institute, a shade more than four decades ago, that Government would give it a measure of recognition. Yesterday's issue of Newsday in dealing with the introduction of CAPE on a phased basis in the nation's secondary schools, pointed out that it would "enable more persons to access tertiary education through academic, technical and vocational courses to study within a single system of certification." On CAPE's course content lists are Business Studies, Caribbean Studies, Communication Studies, Functional Spanish and Functional French, Home Economics and Management. Of specific interest has been the emphasis on Functional Spanish and Functional French, an approach which recognises the movement away of CARICOM from merely a grouping of English speaking countries to an expanded body embracing Spanish and French speaking nations as well, and its being an important part of the establishing of the Association of Caribbean States. It should not be regarded by disinterested observers as a mere symbolic gesture, as was the inclusion of Spanish and French on the syllabus of the Queen's Collegiate School in 1859. Rather it should be seen as a full appreciation both of the need to expand trading and cultural links with the entire region and the critical importance of being in a position to communicate freely with those with whom we seek to do business.

The Ministry of Education must be saluted for its introduction in Trinidad and Tobago of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations, admittedly phased from this year, and fully from 2005. But even as the Education Ministry does this it should take steps to accommodate as many of the nation's young as possible in the exercise. And while, I do not support the approach of Brazil in applying racial quotas in universities, although I understand the rationale, yet something has to be done to achieve needed accommodation. What the Minister of Education, can perhaps do is structure any special assigning of quotas around the children of illegal immigrants, who were frustrated in their quest to access educational opportunities because of the Immigration status of their parents. This has even spilled over to the third generation. Any special quota status should accommodate the immediate descendants of fellow Caribbean people, who came here, albeit illegally, from Guyana, Grenada, St Vincent and elsewhere. The opportunities of CAPE and provided by CAPE should be open to all.

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