WE ARE ONLY HALFWAY IN MONTH TWO of a new year and already the bad news abounds. The murder toll continues to rise 67 in 43 days (at the time of writing); a police officer (among others) arrested in connection with the kidnapping of a 24-year-old Venezuelan woman; robberies of tourists in Tobago; violent crime and murders ‘in grap’— five one day, three another—almost as if we’ve gone to pick coconuts.
In the midst of all the local bad news, our neighbour’s house in Venezuela is almost literally on fire. Instead of finding ways to help Venezuelan refugees, some among us are plotting to find new ways to exploit and demean them.
Just look at the daily news. It’s no longer simply a case of xenophobia against the ‘Vennies’, but the interaction has now extended to some exploiting them as sex slaves.
The intersecting economic, social and economic dimensions of the Venezuelan crisis, make for an interesting history lesson given Venezuela’s global position as a natural resource rich economy. To put it simply, Venezuela ‘big in d dance’ when it comes to oil and gas.
The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) https://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/about_us/171.htm notes that “…Venezuela’s oil revenues account for about 98 per cent of export earnings. Apart from petroleum, the country’s natural resources include natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, diamonds and other minerals…”
Venezuela also is a founding member of OPEC—the organisation founded in 1960 by the five leading petroleum economies in the world—Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. With its membership now at 14 countries, OPEC’s role is to “…co-ordinate and unify petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to secure fair and stable prices for petroleum producers…”. Trinidad and Tobago is not a member of OPEC.
Back on the home front, and as if the news of crime and violence wasn’t bad enough, enter the disheartening report on the state of our primary school education.
The 2017 Education report titled Towards a world class curriculum for Trinidad and Tobago was released a few weeks ago. The report presented some home-truths likely to ‘stick in many craws’— primary schools are not of equal quality; an “uncomfortably large number of children” in primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago continue to experience academic difficulty; some religious schools outperform others.
It would be pretentious to be surprised by these findings. While I am not privy to the research on which the conclusions are founded, just look around and one can be fairly sure that our functional literacy—what one is supposed to get from our primary schools—is woefully inadequate.
The report provided details “…We found classes where an uncomfortable percentage of the children were reading well below the expected class standard… reading challenges in the schools may be pervasive… [and are compounded] … when students are promoted to classes where the reading requirement is higher than their level of comfort…”
So much for no child staying behind. Our poor children get promoted to their inefficient and functionally illiterate ‘best’.
I really don’t like comparing T&T to other countries but suggest we look at global best practices as we seek to modify our education system and improve the output given the significant annual investments made in education.
The education system in Finland, touted as one of the best in the world, consists of daycare programmes (for babies and toddlers); a one-year ‘pre-school’ (or kindergarten for six-year-olds); a nine-year compulsory basic comprehensive school (starting at age seven and ending at the age of sixteen); post-compulsory secondary general academic and vocational education; higher education (university and university of applied sciences); and adult (lifelong, continuing) education.
It’s not surprising that Finland has consistently ranked high in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA study), which compares national educational systems internationally.
In the 2012 PISA study, Finland ranked sixth in reading, 12th in mathematics and fifth in science. Finland’s tertiary education has been ranked first by the World Economic Forum.
To add some national context, in a previous column I lamented that “… Trinidad and Tobago lags that of countries with comparable income. For instance, among the 70 countries and regions that participated in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Trinidad and Tobago ranked 52nd in reading and 53rd in mathematics….”
On a lighter note, and since this is the Carnival season, Soca 2019 ‘issa’ bumper crop. Yes, I hear the groans and ‘steupses’ coming from some quarters—but I ignore these.
There are two aspects of this year’s soca offerings I applaud. First, the number of young artistes who are involved in ‘d art form’—admittedly to varying degrees of quality!
The other noteworthy dimension of the season is the number of regional artistes making it big on the Trinbago Carnival stage. This could well signal that after 46 years of CARICOM, regional integration is finally here. Bring on the merry monarch!
That’s just my point of view!