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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Aunty Thora’s lesson

What can educator Thora Best teach us? First, the sheer power of resilience.

Best was this month awarded the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for National Development and Public Service, but it was not the first time she came to national prominence.

Tragically, in 2008, her father Winston Best, a justice of the peace, was kidnapped and murdered. A maxi taxi driver was held for the crime. But the impact of this event was profound.

In an interview published yesterday Best said her mother was very excited about her receiving a national award.

She told her, “If your father was alive he would have been so proud.” She said her parents were very service-oriented so she has it in her genes. She dedicated her national award to everyone who has been a part of her life and worked with her.

“Because of them I was able to achieve this,” said Best. Not just perseverance, but also humility.

Best also serves as an example of an outstanding, well-rounded citizen. Some teachers may teach only in the classroom. But Aunty Thora also teaches through the example she sets. We laud her wide range of cultural activities.

Best became a teacher at a young age, was a school scout leader, choir mistress, led a chorale speaking national committee, has always been involved in her parish church St Dominic’s RC in Morvant and has worked with the Port of Spain East Lions group.

Additionally, she is the former principal of Rose Hill RC Primary in Port of Spain.

“My heart is in the Laventille Morvant area,” she says. After she “retired”, Best was asked to join the Catholic Education Board as a vicariate manager to supervise Catholic schools in Port of Spain environs.

Best has notably been involved in junior calypso for 40 years and her first exposure was as a teacher carrying her students to a calypso show. She and other teachers were invited to be a part of the Junior Calypso Committee and in 2007 she became chairman. She is also announcer for the children’s parade of the bands and is a member of the Uptown Carnival Committee following on from her late father who was chairman.

This survey of her activities alone demonstrate the passion and energy of an individual who is engaged in community and in cultural expression.

Too often in our education system, we place emphasis on the achievement of marks, on the final certificate, and on systems of memory.

Critical thinking and analysis: getting children to use their minds in powerful ways that can help them navigate the challenges of the real world lags behind. And in the rat-race for scholarships and passes, the need to be culturally engaged and to have a sense of civic responsibility is more or less marginalised. Best is a role model whose live has gone down a rich, varied and fulfilling path.

But a third lesson we can learn from this teacher is also the importance of advocacy. Her lobbying for reform in the education sector is notable and worthy of our attention.

The educator has called for the use of cultural modes of expression in the classroom, such as calypso. By her account, when she was a teacher she would use calypso in the classroom to make classes exciting and relevant.

She noted there is a calypso for every occasion and they can be used to teach local and international history; figures of speech; grammar and the appropriate use of dialect. It strikes us that not only should calypso be in the teacher’s toolbox but also many other forms of local cultural expression such as pichakaree.

With a long-overdue reform of the education curriculum pending, perhaps the time has come to take a cue from Aunty Thora. Let’s enable children to learn more through the resources we have right here all around us.

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