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A Multicultural Model for Education
Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2004

By Linda Edwards

I was happy to note, by your extensive publication of Mr. Hackett's piece, that the Express is willing to encourage in-depth expressions on the issue of education reform. I concur with much of his commentary. My concern is that his invitation to examine the education systems of Eastern countries like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Honk Kong, or was it Singapore, was flawed, not because their education systems were flawed technically, but they are flawed systems socially and ethnically due to past racial practices.

Australia whites only policy, which has now been selectively abandoned, and its brutal treatment of its indigenous Aboriginal people which continues today, and makes the Aborigines some of the wretched of the earth; make Australia an unsuitable society for emulation. The countries like Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong have no African traditions, and are therefore unsuitable for educating Trinidadians, New Zealand is so pure white that although its humanitarian record seems unflawed, its record may not stand up to scrutiny when the situation of its indigenous Maori people is considered.

We are a unique people, with our own particular problems, and we must be concerned about using the techniques that work in a monoculture for education of the unique people of Trinidad and Tobago.

I dream of a day when our nation's children would learn to read again, by reading material created for them, on their interests and history, celebrating who we are, and emphasizing with appropriate pride, the multi-ethnic nature of our society. I would want them to read our Trinidadian writers, but not dialect writers, in their early language development stages, because standard English is the international language of communication. They need immersion in it in school, since they may not be hearing enough of it at home. I would want them to read Achebe, Soyinka, Tagore, Amy Tan, Neruda, Gabriella Mistral, as well as contemporary American writers of all ethnicities, and English and European writers also.

Our emphasis on technical education to satisfy the business aspects of society leaves out the human aspect and can create the impression that things are more important than people. This leads to a lessening of the value of human life in favour of things, which leads to crime.

This is not to say that a child should graduate being able to quote "Things Fall Apart" or "Gitanjali" and not know much else. There must be a practical aspect to education. Our civil engineers know nothing if they cannot study and ameliorate flood problems. Our students must know how our electoral process works- that is the only way they can come to respect the system. They must be taught the concept of religious tolerance, and have opportunities to see it at work in the society. They must study other systems and be able to critique them. They must be encouraged to examine and comment on our social problems and propose solutions. Singapore cannot help us. Australia and Taiwan, monocultures, cannot help us. We have a unique worth in the eyes of the world. We are a "people factory" for producing multicultural people who get along well, and can work co-operatively, with people from everywhere on the planet.

That, in the era of the global village, is worth treasuring. We need our children to understand the workings of a GPS, and to design and manufacture a better one, or anything else that our society needs, but at all costs we need to preserve the unique human qualities of our people, the qualities we have been inclined to sacrifice in the last twenty-five or so years, in the pursuit of "happiness" defined for us as material wealth. Now we have the 40% millionaires, some say, but we are forced to live in high priced gilded cages, because those at the bottom of the society, having been taught that nothing matters but things which the rich were acquiring, have now turned on the society in the form of predators, and are exploiting, through crime, the exploiters who pay starvation wages. Education reform, societal reform is desperately needed, but not by imitating the rank materialism of other societies. We need to teach our people to value people.

I hope the debate would continue.

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