Fall of giants—but there is hope

By Raffique Shah
November 3, 2017

Raffique ShahA friend of mine, a Queen’s Royal College alumnus, no less, and an Afro-Trini, which is relevant only because of the theme of the discussion we had, having scanned the list of the 389 national scholarship winners, noted the demise of his alma mater in academic performance (and in sports, I should have reminded him), and more generally, the seismic shift in scholastic achievements from geographical, race and gender perspectives.

We are of the same generation, which means we experienced or knew of the glory days, decades in the case of QRC in particular, but also of acclaimed institutions such as St Mary’s College (CIC), Fatima, Bishop Anstey High School and St Joseph’s Convent in Port of Spain, and Naparima College and Naparima Girls’ High School, as well as Presentation College and St Joseph’s in San Fernando.

Time was when the top performers came almost exclusively from QRC, hence, were boys. By the 1950s, a fierce rivalry for excellence developed between QRC and CIC, with Bishop’s and St Joseph’s, SAGHS in the East, and Naparima and Naparima Girls’ in San Fernando, as well as Presentation, sharing the spoils. Holy Faith Convent in Couva had carved a niche as the top performer in Central Trinidad.

In the 1960s, Presentation Chaguanas, my alma mater, which, in two previous incarnations had maintained reasonably high standards, became a force to reckon with. Hillview inserted itself into the equation around that time, too. And later, the Muslims established ASJA Boys’ in San Fernando, with Lakshmi Girls’, a privately-owned Hindu college, gaining Government-assisted status as recently as in 1994.

Having sketched the national secondary schools’ canvas historically—some of my dates and data may be inaccurate, I return to the scene of the crime, the CAPE results and awards of 389 scholarships. My QRC friend could not believe that the once-giant-of-a-secondary school, which boasts of alumni that are like a galaxy of stars, many of them now residing in the heavens, and those who are still around enduring the winter of their lives, could muster only four scholarships. Four!

True, its age-old rival CIC scored a paltry nine, Fatima a face-saving 14, and Bishop’s four. But that is little consolation to the no doubt badly-bruised egos of the glory-days alumni, especially when the President’s Medals’ winners were two Hindu girls (I’m assuming this based on their names), one from the newest school in the fray, Lakshmi Girls’.

Embedded in the demographics of the CAPE results and scholarship awards are two conundrums—the dominance of girls and the overwhelming performance of Indo-Trinis as an ethnic group. I am not qualified to even attempt to analyse these phenomena. I can say, though, that I was an early victim of girl-power.

At the Carapichaima E.C. School, in the exhibition class (1956-1957), try as I might, I could not beat Joyce for first place. In six term tests, I had to settle for second spot. My woes were compounded when I escaped Joyce after we both failed the College Exhibition exam and I moved on to Form 1A at the College of St Phillips and St James (forerunner to Presentation, Chaguanas).

Having enjoyed the one-two spots throughout primary schooling, I found myself cast outside of the top ten, flogged to frazzle by boys, mostly of ordinary means like me, who seemed to have eaten 1,000-watt-bulbs for breakfast every day! That class, which became Pres Chaguanas’ first Special Form, produced a string of scholars. Still, we did not win even one of the few scholarships awarded in 1961-1964.

I am sure our contemporaries at QRC did, though—which is why I take an almost perverse delight in pointing out to my friend that Pres Chaguanas, which has won the President’s Medal several times since, won 29 scholarships this year. That was not its best performance, but we can live it.

As we applaud those schools that did very well—ASJA Girls’ (8), Couva East Gov (6), Hillview (29), Lakshmi (24), Naps (21), Naps Girls (41). SAGHS (36), St Joseph’s POS (38), St Joseph’s San F’do (17), St Joseph’s St Joseph (19)—as a nation, we need to not just note the imbalances alluded to in this column, but to try and rectify them.

In spite of its many defects, our education system offers numerous opportunities to all: age, race, gender, there are no barriers. Some denominational schools may discriminate, but government schools don’t. Indeed, QRC is, or was, the finest example of a government school which, for decades, excelled in education across the race- and class-boards.

Shortly after his government established what is now Couva East Secondary in 1965 or thereabout, Dr Eric Williams, during an official visit, urged the staff and students to work towards making that model school “the QRC of Central Trinidad”. The school has always performed well, and recently, it has won scholarships.

The answers to the male-sub-performance dilemma and the ethnic imbalance in examination results may well lie in similar government schools, some of which have started to shine. Management, teachers, parents and students should take pride in awakening the giants that lie comatose in those classrooms.

4 thoughts on “Fall of giants—but there is hope”

  1. This shift has been going on for quite some time. The success of these students can not only be attributed to the schools but also to the support and stability of the families. Successful students usually grow up with determined goals, values, ambition, discipline and parental support.These students also fit into the traditional, rote-learning model which is so prevalent in the education system in T&T.
    There are many who are not successful within the present examination oriented system but who are highly intelligent. Unfortunately, our system does not recognize giftedness in areas other than academic.Many of these will blossom later in progressive foreign institutions in a variety of disciplines if they are provided the opportunity.

  2. Tremendous factual observation TMAN, exam oriented, colonial originated school systems, are really dinosaurs. We should not be raving, but sit back and look at the benefits of T&T’ education the last 30 odd years,have the intelligent schol winners become nation builders today? I’ve always agued that the non schol winners are the ones who really blossom into true intelligence as they grow into man and womanhood. The race is not how one starts, endurance to the Finnish is the real litmus test. Education is continuous, not a one time feel good.

  3. Education versus learning. Someone who adopts the attitude of a learner will do well in life. A learner is someone with a high level of curiosity and observation. How can the education system stir that curiosity? A curious child is a learner.

    Getting an education means going through the process of acquiring knowlege and reusing what you learnt. But education can become boring especially when kids have everything they tend to become lazy academically.

    In today’s world over 60% of girls will enter universities, but what about the boys. There was a time when island scholarship winners were all boys. The world we live in has become more visual and entertainment available at the finger tips. Boys are drugged Into electronic games that provide instant gratification. I see it in my 14 year old god son who seem fixated by the images on the little screen whilst ignoring those around him. How can he find the time to study when the pleasure sensors in his brain light up whilst playing these games. After these games comes the mental crash and boredom steps in. Steve Job kept his children away from electronics because he wanted them to learn not be entertained.

    The future for our young men is bleak. Not that they can’t excel it is just the way they are wired to learn. Unless learning becomes fun, and take into consideration the male brain. Schools will continue to see low performance from the boys!

  4. Excellent observations Raff! with factual accounts as well. There is no doubt that a good education, has lost the meaning it once had in many of our black communities. The sons and daughters of the indentured communities have risen and prospered educationally at the same time and that holds true.

    Acquiring an education is the foundational requisite to building a civil and vibrant community. As the community conforms to norms and standards of accepted behavior, it lends to growth towards building a nation and that is what the purpose of an education offer. Thereafter, purpose becomes the modus operandi on how progress is made. A formal education however, is not enough to building a desired social outcome. My younger brother always remind me that the problem of wars, famine, social upheaval, racism, ethnic cleansing and most social ills are caused in the most part not by fools, but by educated people.
    This means that academia provides a path to learning how to be civil but many people in our time have used that learning not for good but evil as well. That is what we have to guard against.

    How an education is used is more important than how it is gained.
    The psychology of behavior becomes an important ingredient towards building a better society. We become guided when we delve into the studies done by people like B.F. Skinner, Edward Thorndike, John B Watson, Ivan Pavlov, William James, John B Watson and many more who understand that behavior more than anything else determines whether we are a success or failure.
    Such outcomes have nothing to do with a good academic foundation.
    Added to our national character is how we are observed in the arts, music, sports, literacy, language and many more of the human endeavors.

    I have always advocated that we need to employ more psychologists to study our behavior, taking into consideration our crime rate, racial animosity and selfishness. We understand the need to direct harness and direct traffic. So too, there is need to arrest and stabilize behavior before it evolve into a national calamity.

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