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Saturday 18 November 2017
Commentary

Artificial Intelligence

The general usage of this phrase refers to the creation of machines with the apparent ability to operate and act like humans; however, I believe this can also be used to describe the poor quality of students being unleashed into society and onto the workforce.

In last Sunday’s article, I alluded to the fact that there is a distinction between “qualified” and “educated” students, and unfortunately, in Trinidad and Tobago, we clearly have more of the former.

It seems to me that this ratio was different in my time; there were more students leaving school more knowledgeable, even if they only achieved twos and threes for CXC. Nowadays, ones and distinctions are as common as oxygen, yet some of these very students get to the tertiary level and struggle to form proper sentences both written and verbally, or even use proper punctuation... or punctuation, period (pun intended). This is a disturbing illustration that some grades are nothing more than the engineering of artificial intelligence, which is an intelligence that is reflected on paper but does not exist in reality.

It makes me wonder if students over the last decade have been taught in a way that enables them to learn, or are they simply being groomed to ace exams. Despite me failing my parents and teachers and not living up to their expectations (at that time), I know for a fact that none of them ever taught me to pass exams. From my first day in kindergarten to my last day in Form Five, my teachers all drilled the basics into me, none of which I have forgotten.

And as good as their teaching was, I am extremely proud to admit that although I passed for a college, I did not pass for any of my four choices at Common Entrance (Presentation Chaguanas, QRC, CIC or Fatima); nor do I have any distinctions... and by the way, I still have a four in mathematics at the CXC level.

The unfortunate truth is that there is an education crisis from the primary to tertiary level and blame for that can be liberally apportioned to parents along with those responsible for improving this clearly broken education system. At the end of the day, this boils down to students not being taught properly and subsequently being allowed to move through the system without first ensuring that they are ready to progress. In my view, progressing students who are not ready to be progressed causes them to fall even further behind, which means that they eventually get frustrated and drop out - or is that they are pushed out?

This injudicious progression of students also happens at the tertiary level because I usually get students who are in their final years and the quality of work that some produce leaves me scratching my head. At the tertiary level, there are too many students who cannot think critically, formulate sentences, speak properly, read with proficiency, or express themselves in a way expected at this stage in their academic careers. Unfortunately, at the tertiary level, lecturers are unable to give the same care and attention to students for a variety of reasons, and quite honestly, in other cases, some don’t care to; there are some lecturers who are only interested in the supplemental income.

I began lecturing law at the age of 26 a few months after completing my masters in employment law and returning home from London. Almost six years later, I am still one of the youngest lecturers around but it also means that I am also one of the least experienced. Be that is it may, as short as my experience has been so far, I have seen way too many examples of students who were clearly progressed despite their lack of readiness. I must admit that throughout my career it has been an absolute honour to have had some of the best and brightest students in my classes but for every excellent student, there is a disproportionate amount of those who fail to live up to their potential.

Coincidentally, just last week, the outgoing Archbishop of Port of Spain, Fr Joseph Harris, spoke about our flawed education system, which he says – and I agree – is a major contributor to our quasi-educated society and the, now commonplace, delinquent social behaviour. Fr Harris’ wisdom throughout the entire press conference was refreshing in this time of unbridled idiocy coming from a clueless Ministry of Education.

We need an educated society, not one that is merely qualified because as Dr Martin Luther King, Jr wrote in 1947: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.”

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