What Constitutes an Educated Trini?

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 04, 2019


“The school curriculum is not delivering the quality of individual we need to build the nation.”

—Paula-Mae Weekes, President of Trinidad and Tobago

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeNeal Phillip, professor and chairman of Chemistry and Chemical Technology at Bronx Community College, City University of New York (CUNY), wrote the following article, “Preparing Students to enter a 21st Century Workforce,” at my instigation. I wanted to follow through on suggestions to improve high school education in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). I reproduce Professor Phillip’s article with a few editorial changes.

“I grew up in Tacarigua and attended Tacarigua A. C. and D’abadie Government schools before I went on to Queen’s Royal College (QRC) where I received what can be described as a classical education. Although the Junior Secondary, Senior Secondary and Technical schools moved away from the classical model, I believe T&T schools need to focus more effort on high impact practices, particularly on experiential learning, to better prepare our students to function in an ever-increasing technical world.

“When I examine the requirements for the 21st Century workforce, just earning a Bachelor’s, Masters and Ph.D.s degree would be insufficient and, under certain circumstances, could be rendered obsolete. Technical skills, rather than degrees, are becoming paramount. I present some examples of experiential learning models from my experiences in the United States and programs I developed.

“I sit on the Professional Advisory Committee for New York Harbor High School which is dedicated to planting one billion oysters in New York Harbor to improve the water quality. Although the students engage in traditional subjects such as Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, and English, they also concentrate on the oyster project. Students learn how to build and pilot boats, dive and care for the oyster beds, monitor the water quality and the health of the oysters.

“These students also take classes in Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing to use satellites and other spatial tools to better learn about the environment. At the completion of their studies they are prepared to enter a university with sound technical training. This ensures they will enter the workforce eventually with highly sought-after technical skills.

“My work also takes me outside the United States. In Australia I visited elementary schools where a similar experiential learning model is adopted. At Hermit Park State Elementary School in Townsville, Queensland, the focus is on sustainability. Along with studying traditional subjects such as Mathematics, Science, and English, students engage in growing crops, participate in aquaculture, growing chickens, and caring for bees.

“They also sharpen their skills in science and other fields by checking the pH of the water in the fish tank, monitoring the acidity of the soil, and checking on the wind speed that powers the wind-powered ground water pump. Rather than relying on class tests and exams only, the students’ performance in these activities is a part of their overall assessment. They learn valuable technical skills “by doing.”

“The exchange was reciprocal. Students from Hermit Park trained my students on how to build low cost environmental sensors to measure temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide during our visit there in November.”

“I have also engaged with IBM through the Smarter Cities program and have become a big fan of their P-Tech schools. P-Tech is a collaboration between IBM, the New York City School system and CUNY that essentially provides high school students with high level technical skills, particularly in coding and artificial intelligence so that they earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree upon graduation. With the skills they have acquired, they are immediately scooped up by IBM into lucrative technical careers at the age of 18 and 19.

“This system is now adopted widely in the United States, Australia, Europe, and South America. It could be a model for T&T where companies can partner with educational institutions to provide a better prepared workforce for a particular sector of the economy.

“I am also a mentor for the CUNY – IBM Watson Case Competition where students work in teams and vie for a $5,000 first place prize to use IBM Watson and blue-mix technologies to improve higher education and NYC government functions. This program has provided the students with skills in AI and cognitive computing that prepares them for the 21st Century workforce. Some of these students have even formed companies with apps and ideas they developed for the program.

“I have also started study-abroad programs in CUNY to increase students’ technical skills and their language, cultural and global competencies so they can function at the highest level in the 21st century. Recently, we spent two weeks in Mallorca, Spain and Townsville, Australia respectively installing solar powered wireless weather stations, monitoring weather conditions and pollution, block by block, with our specially constructed back pack weather station. We trained students in those countries about sustainability using collective social learning and thematic communication methods.

“My students also took away life-long technical and other skills from their foreign counterparts that will allow them to be highly competitive in their professional careers.

“T&T need to begin conversations on adopting best educational and high impact practices to better prepare technically-sound students who could be competitive in a 21st Century workforce that is also becoming more global.”

Professor Phillip has distinguished himself in experimental methods for teaching of high school students. He has donated a similar weather station to QRC and worked with students and their geography teacher to install it. There is so much our educators can learn from his experience?

7 thoughts on “What Constitutes an Educated Trini?”

  1. Great, Great Great Great Question. Most times we Wonder. Ps, going to Higher BOOK Learning. Or UNIVERSITY, DON’T mean a Thing, when comes to Trinis.

  2. In the 60s and 70s following a green paper on the ‘Egalitarian Threat’ in education in the UK there came about the establishment of universities of technology which was an upscale of colleges of technology. Simply put it was preparing students with the required technological and technical skills supplemented with academic skills. This was not to be confused with traditional universities which focused on pure academics, e.g. polymer science and polymer technology.

    In the 80s in Trinidad, the Laboratory technician course and laboratory techniques that were taught at SFTI and JDTI had the curriculum upscaled to the Science technician program using the modular approach of the Canadian system as opposed to the original British designed curriculum. The purpose for such was to facilitate the required skill sets that were required to operate the diversification and downstream industries at Point Lisas. However, much more was done i.e., students were allowed as part of their program to spend some time doing projects at these companies. the scope was widened to encompass, food processing e.g., Nestle, Chief Brand etc., Structural e.g., cement, bricks (Longdenville), Aggregate (Seereram Bros.) fertilizers e.g., Fedchem, Fertrin, Service industries e.g., WASA, T&TEC etc. Surprisingly petrotrin did do some accommodating but had their own programs for their own specific needs.

    It is worthy to mention that a State Enterprise viz Caroni (1975) Ltd was a pioneer in this sector in conjunction with UWI. e.g., apprentices in electrical, mechanical, Agri chemicals etc. was very accommodating not to mention the ambitious programs that were undertaken by the distillery, e.g., Biotechnology e.g., in utilizing distillery effluent as a natural irrigant for rice cultivation, utilizing the effluent (JETT) in the refining of sugar as a starter in the manufacture of cordials and liquers, utilizing slag (calcium carbide) from ISCOTT as a fungal retardant that was prevalent from the highly sucrose environment a the distillery and many more e.g., bakers yeast (active dry, compressed and instant) vinegar (quality) etc.. In fact, mutual benefits were achieved for those science undergraduates and NIHERST funded postgraduate projects for those students of UWI.

    It is sad that when one look at the demise of Caroni all because the policy makers did not wish to restructure Caroni into separate cost centres but preferred to continue and maintain all charges to a tonne of sugar. Mumbo Jumbo economics rather than defined policies. Now, these Technical institutes have been amalgamated into COSTAATT and now UTT. Let it be mentioned that CSIRO in Australia, Commonwealth secretariat, Indian and Chinese technical research institutes, Ministry of Environment in France have all applauded the work done at Caroni, specifically the distillery. So what really constitutes to the myopic vision of an educated Trini, may I ask? Answer: who sits around the Board meetings where greed, bitterness and iniquity abounds.

  3. The suggestions to broaden and enhance educational opportunities in the secondary schools in T&T, as a response to the changing technological demands of the future are not only desirable, but urgent.
    However, the focus of these recommendations seems to be primarily the elite secondary schools which will produce well educated citizens, informed leaders and achievers in our society in spite of any improvements. The students who gain admission to the “better” secondary schools are already top streamed achievers poised to continue to post secondary education at home or abroad where many excel in a variety of fields.
    The education system in T&T is primarily based on streaming. The method used to assign student places at the secondary level relates directly to results of examinations at the elementary level. A higher result on these examinations facilitates entrance to the “top” schools. A lower result eliminates top choices. Government schools or underfunded private schools become the last resort.
    Any attempt to reform education in T&T has to relegate technological and practical programs in elite secondary schools which cater to the top 15-20% of our students to a very low priority.
    There are much greater needs which must be addressed. The problems in failing schools must be identified in order to avert further erosion to our society.

    I believe that the President had many other ideas when she made that statement.

  4. Is it possible that the President was referring to the need for personal and civic responsibility as necessary goals for building a nation?
    In addition to personal and civic responsibility,any reformation of the education system in T&T must address the issues high failure rates and the high incidence of the lack of basic skills. Also, the increasing criminality, corruption, lack of moral and ethical values,sexuality and sexual deviance are issues which must be examined within the context of the school system.

    And we have not yet mentioned the need for addressing the problems of Special needs students. T&T has fallen so far behind that it is a monumental task to catch up.
    The technological and practical programs being suggested for elite schools should be supported but not made a priority in the context of the entire system.

  5. Great, Great Great Great Question. Most times we Wonder. Ps, going to Higher BOOK Learning. Or UNIVERSITY, DON’T mean a Thing, when comes to Trinis.”…… camera boy

    While my interpretation of this statement may differ from that of the author, the words are nevertheless instructive of the difficiences we face in dealing with the problems of the world. There was never a time in history when we had so many educated people academically, electronically, scientifically, medically, agriculturally and socially. Yet in this era, mankind does not have the resources to deal with poverty, crime, immigration, peace, obesity, racism, wars, respect, clean water, clean air, pollution and many, many more dangers that crop up from time to time.

    What that means is that we have to redefine what we accept as ‘education’. My brother always remind me that wars, famine, hate, poverty and divisions are almost always the brainchild of
    ‘educated people’. Here in Trinidad our problems are not unlike those of societies around the world. What have we learned from the loathsome scourge of crime? What have we learned from the ever increasing problem of our traffic situation? What have we learned about the problems of unsecured borders? What have we learned from the prevalence of diabetes in our country? What have we learned from the politics of hate in our country? What have we learned about making peace rather than the ever presence of racial and ethnic division? What have we learned about religious diversity? What have we learned about our lack of food production? These are all situations that ‘education’ should prepare us for healing and advocating for betterment. We can start by making making studies available of the problems that confronts us with regularity and commonality.
    We can start by putting our prejudice aside and confronting with purpose our problems.

  6. Ramesh Deosaran reported the following observation on the education system in T&T in his latest article:

    “Most of the limited success from these objectives are repeatedly found in the “prestige” schools (government-assisted denominational) especially in terms of “intellectual” achievement. As Minister Garcia himself pointed out with particular reference to scholarships, the disparities remain troubling and unresolved. Look at one piece of troubling data. In the 2008 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination, 21 per cent of students from government schools gained five or more passes compared to 62 per cent from government-assisted denominational schools. The proportions for 2012 were 19 per cent for government secondary schools and 64 per cent from government-assisted schools – big, persistent differences. (See Inequality, Crime and Education in Trinidad and Tobago, R. Deosaran, Ian Randle Publishers, 2016, pp 272 for this and related data.)”

    The big question is ,how do we resolve the disparities between the prestige schools and the government schools?
    I do not think that the country is prepared to make the sweeping, radical changes necessary to resolve this problem.

  7. Thank you Dr. Cudjoe for throwing light on some possible options to a more rounded education in the 21st Century, for Trinidad and Tobago learner and achievers. Many of us understand the problems, and how there have been struggles to mandate the removal of the obsolete, and conventional practices in Caribbean Education systems. What I have read in this article is in fact, proven and effective reasoning. It offers content that could guide us to a new trend in learning. Hope is needed for T&T. I think that possible solutions to modern Education in the twin nation exists in educations who are willing to try something different: Agile Learning, for example. What I desire to see at this point is commitment. Learners and educators alike, ‘need to look outside of the box’ when addressing issues that affect us all: National Security, Domestic Violence, Environmental Studies, Crime on the local level, regional, and international. Diversity and Culture: Intercultural, Intra-cultural, and Social Studies, Health Care. Students must become more acquainted with technology and the various applications employed everyday that according to studies, can increase productivity: Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Quick-books, and Social Media Advertising and Marketing…. this is where Education has gone, and it is likely to be there for a long time.

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