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Saturday 20 July 2019
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Education – a promise or not?


LEARNING To Realise Education’s Promise is the title of the World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report. It’s the first such report dedicated to education and is indeed a timely publication for our national consideration in light of the President’s recent call for an overhaul of the education system.

The report highlights a global phenomenon that is not alien to Trinidad and Tobago’s reality, that is, “Worldwide, hundreds of millions of children reach young adulthood without even the most basic life skills. Even if they attend school, many leave without the skills for calculating the correct change from a transaction, reading a doctor’s instructions, or interpreting a campaign promise – let alone building a fulfilling career or educating their children.”

They describe this learning crisis as a moral crisis.

In Trinidad and Tobago we may easily make assertions such as, “We have achieved universal education at early childhood, primary and secondary.” Some of us may even go as far as to say, “Our students excel on the world stage.”

While this may be true to some extent, it does not represent the whole picture of education reality in Trinidad and Tobago. Instead, what we have made is great strides in providing access to education. While there is a tendency within our society to equate schooling with education, having access to a school place is no guarantee that learning will take place.

Consider the following anecdote.

At school A, a secondary school in what has been touted an at-risk community, the majority of children placed there scored below 30 per cent on the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA). These children have challenges with reading, socio-economic problems at home, and even insufficient home supports.

They sometimes act out because of the level of frustration experienced as they attempt to navigate school without the necessary tools. No support systems to bridge the divide in what they need and what they lack is provided and they are suspended for the slightest infractions if considered a pattern of behaviour. When do they get an opportunity to learn?

The World Development Report reminds us, “When delivered well, education cures a host of societal ills. For individuals, it promotes employment, earnings, health, and poverty reduction. For societies, it spurs innovation, strengthens institutions, and fosters social cohesion. But these benefits depend largely on learning. Schooling without learning is a wasted opportunity. More than that, it is a great injustice: the children whom society is failing most are the ones who most need a good education to succeed in life.”

Every year the Ministry of Education and the wider society celebrate the students who make it in the top 200 arising out of the results of the SEA. Our top CSEC and CAPE performers receive President’s Medals. However, what about our struggling learners? What about those students who go through the motions of schooling, what are we doing for and with them? How long can our society sustain school-leavers who lack basic education skills that will enable them to function as productive members of our society?

A recurring theme in the articles in this column has been the social capital that is required for facilitating success in school, and the lack of said social capital that is experienced by many of our students. When will this be addressed?

In planning for our citizens, catering to the needs of the marginalised and disenfranchised of the society is just as, if not more, important than that of the average citizen. It is not sufficient to capture this only through social safety net programmes. There is an urgent need to ensure that our education system is equipped to facilitate the needs of all learners so that it indeed leaves no child behind.

On the international front, Trinidad and Tobago is performing below the OECD average on measures of literacy and numeracy accomplishments. Nationally too many of our children are being placed in secondary schools without basic literacy skills which are necessary for them to be able to take advantage of the learning opportunities.

This state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely if we are to become the prosperous society that we envision. We need to examine all the factors that are contributing to our education dilemma and take action.

The World Development Report also details systems barriers that contribute to the learning crisis. This will be addressed in our next instalment.

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children” (Kuan Chung, 7th century BC).

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