Constitutional rights of black children

Theodore Lewis -
Theodore Lewis -


SCHOOLING HERE is an extension of party politics. As a result, black children attend the worse schools. They are excluded from the best schools. For example, when Samsung offered the People’s Partnership the opportunity to convert two secondary schools into model technology-driven schools, then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose Lakshmi Hindu high school, and Iere Presbyterian, her alma mater, as the models.

No government schools. Just UNC-affiliated schools.

This was the prime minister of all the children, but she had a preference. She boasted about this on the passing of Sat Maharaj.

That episode is a metaphor underlying how schools are perceived in the country. They constitute political turf. But black children suffer because they do not have political champions.

The dynamic we have here in education is not seen in Jamaica, where very many schools do well, and black students could get into Mona to do medicine and engineering.

Here, black children are on the outside of the system that leads to university education. It is a kind of apartheid. They cannot get into first-choice schools that have science and add-maths. Prof Verene Shepherd of Mona writes that Jamaica once agreed to separate school systems, as early waves of indentures settled there. But soon it was realised that one state, two school systems was not going to work.

But we have that here.

Black failure is accepted as routine in this country and maybe the result even of congenital abnormality. They dunce, or their parents should be more circumspect.

On a radio programme last year in which I was a participant, Brinsley Samaroo asked me if I did not think that black children suffer from “post-slavery syndrome.” I had never heard so much stupidness.

The education deck is stacked against black children. You have schools standing in the middle of the east-west corridor, PNM territory, but black children are locked out. Like if this is Alabama, or Pretoria, in the old days.

The Academic Performance Index (API) study of 2016 found only one excelling state-funded primary school in Port of Spain and environs, and 19 failing schools.

One of these failing schools is Nelson Street Boys RC. That is where Prof Courtenay Bartholomew went to school. The great man.

Our system of shunting children to schools based on an exam and race is unconstitutional, and stone age. It is cruel. My granddaughter not going through that.

Two children on the same street competing for access to a school.

Very many Indian working-class children suffer because of the SEA. The prestige schools turn away the children of the Indian brother with the stall in the market. His children go to comprehensive schools. He is not a Brahmin.

The Laws of Trinidad and Tobago state that “education is guaranteed” at any age between five and 16 years and accordingly a person will be deemed to be of compulsory school age if he has attained the age of five years and has not attained the age of 16 years.

It says in section 7 (Ch 39.01) under the head “Prohibition of Discrimination,” that “no person shall be refused admission to any public school on account of the religious persuasion, race, social status, or language of such person or of his parent.”

Nobody told Naparima about this clause.

Our system of placing children along separate life paths at 12, based on the decisions of religious denominations, is a cruel, ungodly process. It is discriminatory.

The Bible says “suffer” the little children to come unto thee. Some of the religions take this literally. They leave black children suffering outside the gate.

So we see the problem. Our SEA system violates our laws.

We must look at the 20 per cent racket.

According to the 2011 census, the following is our religious profile: 21.6 per cent Roman Catholic, 18.2 per cent Hindu, five per cent Muslim, 1.5 per cent Jehovah’s Witnesses, seven per cent Traditional Baptist, 12 per cent Pentecostal, 5.7 per cent Anglican, 4.1 per cent Seventh-day Adventist, 2.5 per cent Presbyterian, 1.2 per cent Orisha, 0.7 per cent Methodist.

Keep an eye on this matter of just 2.5 per cent of the population being Presbyterian. How come they are entitled to 20 per cent of children?

Yet, Presbyterians run Naparima Boys and Girls, St Augustine Girls, and Hillview College. These schools are state-funded, but they operate in an exclusionary way like private schools, and they all have one peculiarity, which is that they are overwhelmingly Indian schools. Black children can get in if they can play sports.

In this country, unless you came in late, a good proxy for race is the last name.

Using this common-sense approach and based on SEA results published in a supplement of one of the daily papers on October 9, 2020, the following reflected the placement of children with Indian surnames in selected schools:

Naparima Boys – 69.2 per cent; Hillview – 71.1 per cent; Presentation Chaguanas – 86.8 per cent; Presentation San Fernando – 60.8 per cent; Naparima Girls – 89.8 per cent; Lakshmi Girls – 96.9 per cent; SAGHS – 81.1 per cent.

The first thing that should be obvious about these numbers is that they all are larger than 20 per cent. These schools routinely dictate over 70 per cent of their intake. Again, ten per cent of Indians are Catholic. But Presentation College both in San Fernando and Chaguanas are dominantly Indian. The overwhelming majority of children who attend Presbyterian schools are not Presbyterians. It is a racial racket. A scam. The SEA placement system is crooked. And there are no Baptist secondary schools.

The State must be faithful to the constitution. The same set of schools must be made available to all children on an equal basis. The task of the State is to make all schools good. Like they do in Finland. Schooling must not be like Play-Whe, where parents wait to see if their child’s number was drawn. Schooling must be like water, equally available to all. No competition to get access.

The fraudulent SEA 20 per cent system that the churches love must be abandoned. Time for a democratic school system, like in England, or Canada, in which each child finds an equal place.

Theodore Lewis is professor emeritus, University of Minnesota


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