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Local vs 'foreign' education
Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2011

By Derren Joseph
October 04, 2011

Like any year, in 2011, some of my friends moved up 'North' to help ensure what they perceive to be 'better' educational opportunities for their children. Ironically, I have some friends that returned to Trinidad to enjoy what they perceive to be a better quality of life for their children. Of course this dilemma is not a new one and it probably goes as far back as colonial days.

Growing up, I was always acutely aware of our admiration for things foreign. This adulation ranges from entertainment, to clothing and of course—education. My father benefited from a Government scholarship and studied accounting in the UK, so that was always in the back of my mind. Nevertheless, I chose to do my first degree at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, and only left after that to pursue post graduate work outside. Interestingly, I had to pay (CESS back in the early 1990s) for my degree at UWI but managed to get funding for my post graduate work in the UK.

It is a credit to the previous administration that tertiary education was eventually made free. In a way, everyone therefore 'wins' a scholarship to study. Undoubtedly this has helped open many a door for those who may not have otherwise been able to benefit from tertiary educational opportunities. I am not convinced that our local tertiary education institutions offer experiences that are any better or worse than those available overseas. To some extent it all depends on what one wants out of life. Let me explain what I mean.

There was a Tony Sewell article in an April 2011 edition of the Telegraph newspaper (in the UK) entitled 'Black Students and the Glass Ceiling'. This article was largely a commentary on UK Prime Minister David Cameron's assessment that Oxford University (his alma mater) was "disgraceful" for only taking one black student in 2009/10 (which was subsequently proved to be an inaccurate statement). Using Facebook, I shared this article with another former alumnus of St Mary's College, who lives in the UK and the bit that struck him the most was where the writer concluded that: "Education should include being exposed to, gaining understanding of and becoming confident in worlds other than your own." I had a second look and agreed that this was particularly important.

I am not saying that UWI did not expose me to ideas from the world outside because it undeniably did do so! What I am saying is that it was easier for me to "become confident in worlds other than" my own, after the firsthand experience of living (and working) in these worlds, as opposed to if my experience was limited to books. But that is just me. For others, it could be completely different. One thing UWI did help me to develop however; was confidence in myself and who I am. I am proud of the achievements of our region's thinkers and teachers. I am proud of the achievements of our regional athletes. By meeting and interacting with students from other parts of our region (including the French speaking territories), I developed a regional identity. I am proud to be from the Caribbean.

Some of my friends do point out however, that times are changing and for those of us, who at least want to give our children the option of studying, specialising or working up 'North', it is getting more difficult. The obvious reason is the global economic turmoil which makes financial aid more difficult for anyone to access. In addition, there are concerns about CAPE not yet being as recognised as its CXC/Cambridge predecessor; making acceptance by certain overseas universities slightly more difficult. Finally, there are concerns by students over the accreditation of the Mt Hope Medical School and UTT. Personally, before I did my Masters degrees, I found (potential) employers in the UK, a bit skeptical over the credibility of my UWI first degree.

Even having a UK passport is less of an advantage with the new Government removing the tuition subsidy which means that local students are subject to hefty fees. For those who want to work locally or regionally, these are really non-issues. For those who do want to work internationally, surely these are not show stoppers. I know many who are working internationally having been expatriated after joining the local division of international companies like BP, BG and Nestle. In fact many probably join these companies with international opportunities in mind. As always, I end by saying that we are truly blessed in Trinidad and Tobago. I love my country and I love my region. Despite our challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.

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