DR ERROL BENJAMIN
THE perennial mantra of my now deceased parents working the canefields out of the estate barracks in Golconda was for us children to “take larning” (learning), implicitly in order to escape the toils they had to endure on a daily basis.
Not that barrack life was as depressing as some local historians make it out to be. Memories of the camaraderie of a close-knit community, of enjoying the simmering roti and choka straight out of the chulha and the pitter-patter of raindrops on the old roof are beautiful, nostalgic ones I will cherish forever.
Still, the reality was that working the canefields was a very hard life but my parents never flinched in their duties, seeing in it their sacrifice in order to pay a better for us, their children. Education, back then, was the key out of poverty. And it still is.
An example of how uncompromising they were in their goal of us children to “take larning,” include my father insisting I go to school even when the entire village was having fun with fish teeming in the nearby rivers, after the crop fires.
Then there were the times he made us go to school on a Friday afternoon after discovering we had been breaking biche for the entire week at my
ajee’s (grandmother) place.
My father was not heartless as some may think. It was as if our poverty was the catalyst to push him to ensure that his children never had to experience the toil of hard labour in the canefields of Golconda. He never flinched in his duty and responsibilities to us.
He was unlike some other parents who, in the tradition of Shadow’s Poverty is Hell, used their poverty to abandon their children's education, or, worse, drive them to the white powder for the quick money it brings, paying little heed to the bard Ras Shorty I's admonition that such behaviour will only bring “shame and disgrace to the human race.”
Today, because of the uncompromising duty of our parents to their children, giving them the education they deserved, we, the children of the sugar-estate barracks, have done much to make us worthy citizens, and our deceased parents proud.
I ask for your indulgence for this lengthy preamble on the role my parents played in my own education not so much as an end in itself, but more so as a prelude to the shocking, almost tragic revelations in the media of how our enrolment at UWI has been reduced significantly because of – among other reasons – the lack of funding.
The enrolment is so poor that it is the worst in the Western Hemisphere, according to media reports.
One cannot overemphasise the importance of tech and vocation skills, especially for children who may not be academically inclined, not only for filling an important niche in the skills bank of a developing nation, but as an avenue for gainful employment away from criminal activity.
Of the reduced enrolment numbers at UWI, what more can we say of the negative impact of a diminishing professional class on the future development of any society, especially ours? And all because of a lack of funding!
Notwithstanding the reduced revenue from gas and oil and the economic problems of the pandemic, the question to ask is, what kind of governmental mindset is it for the priority which education should have to be relegated to a secondary position, creating a myriad societal problems?
Education is key for the development of any society and it should be at the top of any government's list of priorities, above all other priorities.
If education can be top priority at the level of the family, bringing the success it did for so many of our citizens, why then not also at the national level?