Thursday, October 1, 2015


As oil prices continue their downward trend and the Ryder report comes out saying that we have only twelve years of proven gas reserves left, there is much talk ... almost panicky talk ... about diversifying the economy. Pundits go on radio and television and with much pontification drop their pearls of wisdom about the importance of moving away from our dependency on oil and gas and diversifying (that word again) the economy. Everybody expects that the new Finance Minister will bring in a budget next week that will be tough and that his report will be that our treasury is, if not empty, then close to it.

But nobody has talked about how exactly we are going to achieve this diversification. A former Minister, Mariano Browne, came fairly close last week when he said that we have to think long term and pointed out how India took the decision way back in the late 1940's to put an emphasis on science and mathematics that has resulted in that country's leadership today in information technology.

Education is the single most important factor that shapes the overall distribution of income and influences the probability of poverty. It is no surprise that the countries with poor education systems are at the bottom of the wealth ladder. It is no surprise that the poorest people in the world are the least educated. Conversely, it is no surprise that the countries with the highest educational standards have a citizenry who enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.

Now, look at T&T and the amount of money that has poured through our coffers over the last half century or so. While there are wealthy people living here, the average person certainly cannot be regarded as living at a first world standard and the levels of poverty are ... or ought to be regarded as unacceptable. We shouldn't be as poor as we are.

The problem is not just about money, but a lack of evaluation and meritocracy in schools ... evaluation is an alien concept in T&T's education system. Years ago I was severely criticized for referring to this country's schools as dumps. But the truth is that they were dumps then and remain dumps now. The level of teaching in our schools is often very low with good or competent teachers a rarity rather than the norm; but any attempt at evaluating teachers and structures have been fiercely resisted because teachers do not want to lose their jobs. So teachers often do not have the right training, or if they are trained their knowledge is hardly ever (if ever) updated.

Don't believe me? I live opposite one of Port of Spain's best primary schools. And yet, every single year since dinosaurs roamed the earth the children in that "best" school who are sitting the SAE exams spend their Saturday mornings at the school taking extra lessons. Every single parent who has a child attending a prestige school will tell you that their kid has to take extra lessons in order to pass the school leaving exams that will get them into university. Now, tell me: if the system is so good, why do the kids at every level (primary and high school) have to take extra lessons in order to pass? In the good public schools in first world countries the children are taught in the class room and extra lessons are a rarity, not the norm.

For decades we have let the education system go down and down to the dogs. There is no attempt today by the best schools in the country to reach for the stars. There is no innovative thinking and absolutely no leadership in anything remotely connected with education. Instead, the system seems to be designed to protect the incompetent and unqualified. And we continue to bemoan the constant lowering of standards in every sphere of our lives and throw up our hands in despair. For the last thirty years (probably more) successive governments have simply tinkered with the system. There have been no fresh ideas as to how to improve it and no desire on the part of the politicians of all stripes on both sides of the aisle to take the system into the twenty-first century.

I have often asked the question of educators and those connected with the education system: if this country's education system was blown up this afternoon so that tomorrow morning there was absolutely nothing and you had to start again from scratch, would you put back the exact same system or would you put back something different? The answer has always been 'something different.' So? Why do we continue to tinker with the system? We don't we do something different?

It can be done, and if it is done we will see a huge change for the better in every sphere of our society. In my next post I will put forward one idea as to how we could change things for the better. But please understand, that the idea that I have will not be proposed as the only idea. If anybody has a better idea (or ideas) then for crying out loud, bring it out. But understand this, and understand it well: ain't nothin' gonna change unless and until we fix the education system.

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