The admission by Prime Minister Keith Rowley that there is an ISIS cell in Trinidad and Tobago comes as no surprise to many. In July 2017 it was reported by the US State Department that we have the highest per capita ISIS recruitment in the western hemisphere. This points to serious social pathologies. One of these is the state of education.
There are thousands who enter our secondary schools after the SEA exam but at the end of five years there are thousands who do not make it. They are rendered ‘failures’ by an education system that in many respects has failed them and they become social outcasts. These increase year after year and, in the current economic climate, create youths who are desperate and ideal fodder for the ISIS mill.
Such victims of an education system that caters to the needs of the minority are both unemployed and unemployable. No form of education can avoid the basics in math and English but beyond that, education needs to be more varied.
There have been many cries for more tech-voc schools to little avail. Even for more tech-voc teachers who are becoming as rare as some hunted species. There needs to be a wider remedial programme attending to the myriad learning difficulties of children. We espouse the view that all children are teachable and capable of success; one just has to find the right key to open the lock.
Here social workers are indispensable. They are the ones who can inform us about the social environment in which children live—size of family; economic status; dangers like gangs, drugs and violence; domestic problems, including addictions of various kinds.
Once teachers are apprised of these, strategies can be created to slowly overcome these obstacles or minimise their impact. As today’s gospel reminds us, transformation lies in committing ourselves to the arduous task of climbing a high mountain in the company of others.
But today’s gospel reveals another factor that impinges on recruitment by ISIS. On the mountain Peter, James and John are able to discern the transcendent in their midst. Their glimpse of divinity was palpable. Not so today. We live in a “disenchanted universe” as the philosopher Charles Taylor tells us.
People experience the world as flat, not transcendental. God seems absent, the world cold, and life meaningless. The very thing that traditionally provided meaning in people’s lives is gravely endangered—religion. In such a milieu, decadent philosophies usually mixed with some simplistic understanding of God step in offering an illusionary panacea for society’s injustices and the world’s indifference.
It is a tempting offer than many cannot resist, but it does imply the need for sound faith formation. This is a challenge for all religion—to bring across an understanding of religion that is consistent with faith, intellectually sound and respectful of the findings of the social, medical and natural sciences and the wisdom of the humanities.
Faith formation must be real or true. It must speak truth to power in the face of the world’s injustices and must be committed to peace. Any other model would be alienating and render the young susceptible to ISIS’ hate-filled ideology.