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Monday 14 October 2019
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Backward ever, forward never

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

LAST WEEK I looked at a video created by Social Media Examiner, a company that tracks the latest trends in marketing with a particular focus on social media sites.

In this video, two unabashed nerds geeked out over the latest advances in artificial intelligence. Even though AI is still somewhat in its infancy, for business applications technology is already invaluable for companies determined to spend less time on time-consuming administrative routines.

There is software that can schedule appointments for business meetings or Skype conferences. Input your calendar particulars along with the e-mail addresses of your contacts and the AI takes care of the rest.

This frees up entrepreneurs and business owners to concentrate on product development, sales and marketing to grow revenues. That, boys and girls, is the face of innovation and competitiveness in 2019...at least elsewhere.

So many countries around the world are preparing their citizens for an age that calls for new skills, but more importantly, a thirst for innovation and the ability to think creatively.

Here is an example of innovation in Trinidad. I used to collect my nephew from school and was always amazed at the weight of his school bag. In standard two he was already carrying Nalis on his back. After many months of working mule duty carrying that load of books, I thought I’d have to get palpated for a hernia. As you may know, doctors rarely warm their hands for that.

Here is the Ministry of Education’s solution for the perennial problem of heavy school bags – they’ve put out instructions on the right way to wear a school bag. This is not a joke. The backpack guidelines include wisdom from the mountain like this gem: “Always wear the backpack over the two shoulders to distribute the weight evenly” and, “Someone should lift the bag for the wearer to put onto the shoulders...” Unbelievable.

There is a special intelligence behind the thinking that the way to tackle heavy school bags is teaching children a better way to tote them. Aside from the fact that wearing a school bag differently doesn’t alter the molecular properties of its contents, the book bag guidelines are a gleaming example of the thought processes that keep TT stuck.

Every child I see nowadays has an iPad. Why aren’t there timetables on these iPads so students can refer to them every evening before school and pack their bags accordingly?

Whatever the case, there can be no excuse for children having to lug every book to class every day. This is just nonsense, and school-bag-wearing guidelines compound that nonsense.

An historical abundance of money has created a deficit of intelligence and problem-solving skills. We’ve thrown money behind all our problems. Now that there’s none, there is no ingenuity or enterprise to fall back on.

The money that passed through this country was never invested in our futures but the politics of the present.

That is why in 2019 the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, could describe all budgets as a “sweetheart budget,” one where the State does a lot for the people of the territory(?). The Prime Minister along with most of our political class are artefacts of the past determined to keep us dragging our knuckles with them.

We had yet another reminder of this truth with the recent visit of the US medical ship Comfort. It was heartbreaking to see long lines of desperate citizens hoping for treatment onboard the vessel. The pictures looked like something out of a country ravaged by conflict or natural disaster.

How can this be in a nation in which billions are allocated annually for the health sector? This is the same health sector the Prime Minister described as the best in the Commonwealth. The inability of healthcare and indeed every other public service to deliver is rooted not in a lack of resources but distaste for innovation and progressive management ideologies.

While we remain tied to the sinking stone of petrochemical dependence, other countries in the region are leaving us behind. This they are doing with fewer financial resources than we had at our disposal.

The only technology we’ve embraced in this country is buying lots of it. We aren’t using it to create our own opportunities and find our place in the new world around us...not as a people.

In today’s competitive global environment, inertia is the same as regression. But say what...wear those school bags high if you don’t want a bowsie back.

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