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STREET VIBE: Despite Garcia’s woodsman boast; T&T’s school dropouts rate is real scandal

To say it’s sad to learn about the significant amount of students who over the years have “dropped out of school” is an understatement. To further learn that the primary reason behind the dropout rate is financial hardship—known in most circles simply as poverty—is depressing.

When it becomes downright asinine is when a geriatric ‘woodsman’ turned politician takes children dropping out of school and makes it a political issue. There are no winners in this scenario and one would think that older people would know this. Obviously this is not the case.

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

I also get alarmed when unnecessary numbers are thrown into the public space; it tells me something is amiss. The breakdown of numbers in no way makes the drop out issue less stressful. If anything, they merely compounded them.

To learn that during the years 2008-2016 we have had 11,062 students dropping out of school in both the primary and secondary system, is an indictment against society, and the failed education system in particular.

This is sad as we recall boasts from both of the major political organisations of free education, education grants, book grants, free laptops, “breakfasses” and a host of other initiatives—all designed to facilitate learning. At least that is what we were told.

While I do not agree with dropping out of school at any stage—even though I was a drop out—dropping out in the primary stage is major cause for concern and should be a greater worry than the failing health care system and/or failed justice system.

To add insult to injury with this issue is the amount of monies having been allocated to the Ministry of Education over the years. While I do not wish to baffle the reader with numbers—as was done by the Education Minister—I can select just a few years to demonstrate the gross incompetence which passes for governance.

Photo: Students missing...
Photo: Students missing…

The following numbers are allocations provided to the Ministry of Education:

  • 2010: $46.7B;
  • 2013: $9.149B;
  • 2014: $9.82B;
  • 2015: $10.126B;
  • 2016: $9.76B.

Other figures can be quoted, literally, as they are readily available at one’s fingertips. Hopefully I would have made my point, without boring anyone.

What the numbers demonstrate is that each year we have seen the Ministry of Education—as all the other Ministries—enjoy an increase in their budgetary allocation. However, there have been no corresponding increases in their successes.

Meanwhile, politicians parrot the American line of “no child left behind.” To the contrary, we have left and are leaving thousands of our children behind—way behind and needlessly.

Photo: A cartoon depicting the issue of college dropouts in the US.
Photo: A cartoon depicting the issue of college dropouts in the US.

As a sociologist, I lay the blame for most of our social issues at the feet of our failed education system, which, despite glorified phrases, have left, and are continuing to leave thousands of our students behind as is demonstrated by the numbers.

In my analysis, a major reason is that our education system, as other systems, are obsessively concerned with inputs and are unable to measure outputs. They misleadingly equate monies pumped into the system as success and never measure ‘value for money’.

To be fair, this practice is not unique to the Ministry of Education; it is practiced in every state institution one can think of.

Many years ago, a professor of mine argued that the Criminal Justice System in the US was designed to fail. His theory was the only way they can get more money is by failing.

He suggested that should they do what they were mandated to, they would not get additional sums. I have since recognised that this theory applies to every State institution in this land, with education being just one.

The unfortunate part about the dropout is that there are serious long terms consequences. A question should have been posed to the woodsman about how many of the dropouts were from the “prestige schools?”

Photo: Students at Belmont Secondary School smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon. (Copyright BBC.co.uk)
Photo: Students at Belmont Secondary School smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon.
(Copyright BBC.co.uk)

Ah, but poverty and prestige schools don’t usually go together. The question becomes: Are we deliberately maintaining an underclass to insure that those at the top enjoy their perks and privileges at their expense?

Why after billions of dollars spent on a system are we still no closer to achieving a level of intelligence which can eventually translate into a better quality of life for all?

One cannot help but wonder if “we like it so.” Or perhaps a better quality of life is just a pipe dream, like “water for all.”

About Rudy Chato Paul Sr

Rudy Chato Paul, Sr, is passionate about gardening, music and writing and boasts post-graduate certification in Anthropology, Criminology and Sociology. He also studied Theology, which is why he is actively seeking to make Trinidad a better place rather than waiting for divine intervention. 

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44 comments

  1. Teachers Service Commission hires.

  2. agree with you Christopher, parent neglect, blame everone except themselves. NO child is born bad, lack of correction and discipline by so call adults

  3. When will we learn that the government does not make children good bad ,smart or stupid. PARENTS AND THEIR ABILITY TO PROVIDE FOR CHILDREN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE.IN OTHER WORDS IF YOU CANT AFFORD A TOYOTA HILUX , YOU BETTER WALK BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE INSURANCE LET ALONE THE GAS.

  4. Lasana Liburd
    We must fix the socio-economic condition of the family!
    This talk about we were poor too (50yrs ago) and I went to school and learned, why can’t they do it too. Superficial!
    You see, there is a so called intellectual and self righteous class in this country that find it very easy to blame and dismiss the under class. Especially from communities such as Laventille. They just can’t seem to go any further than blaming them at the superficial level of being lazy, ungrateful, immoral, unpatriotic, etc instead of digging deep for some of the real causes and solutions to these problems. Maybe they’re guilty of just what they’re accusing the underclass of – laziness, immorality and unpatriotic. It’s always easy for them to site personal responsibility and conveniently set aside the State’s responsibility, the two goes hand in hand.
    Imagine, in the year 2016 hearing a MP for Laventille, on national television, referring to Laventille as the student in the following quote: “When the student is ready the teacher would appear” Brother Laventille has been ready for more than sixty years. It’s a pity that after all these years you still think that we are not ready. We built Laventille, with our bear hands – stone by stone, brick by brick culture by culture, sport by sport, art by art, with our blood and sweat! When we are ready?
    Do some of you know the real causes behind the issue? Do you care to know?
    It was reported that despite the fact that pupils by law must attend school until they are 16 years old, some 11,062 ­pupils dropped out of primary school ­between 2008 and 2016.
    One of the main reasons, according to Education Minister Anthony Garcia, has to do with the financial difficulties facing many of the nation’s homes.
    Real talk! Real people! Bring on the right programmes, policies and legislation and let’s fix this problem of school dropouts. The students were ready, but no one appeared!

  5. It is so much more than this.

  6. I dont think its intentional; we just have teachers who dont show up to work and cant be fired and parents who no longer care about their children’s education.

  7. Calisa Paulson, I agree 1000% with your views, Except that I disagree with your ideas related to prestige schools. If you were to abandon that system in favour of kids being assigned to schools open a geographical basis, the urban populations would get the schools with good traditions to the disadvantage of rural dwellers

  8. I think the Minister needs to explain what he means by ‘dropouts’ because I am aware of a situation where one poor student was put out of a “prestige” school because he could not purchase items for his art class. His solution was to stop attending school. The situation was brought to my attention and I wrote to the Minister of Education about the matter asking for his intervention. The next morning I received a call from the Ministry requesting the teacher’s name, telephone contacts for the child’s parents etc. which I supplied. The Ministry intervened and the student returned to school. He recently finished school with outstanding results up to A Levels and is now employed. He is planning to save his earnings to attend university. He could have been among the ‘dropouts’.

  9. The Teachers are on strike, they are de-motivated and coddled by a Ministry oblivious to mistakes in hiring and contract work.

  10. Serious article… The people of T&T must take heed.

  11. “The question becomes: Are we deliberately maintaining an underclass to insure that those at the top enjoy their perks and privileges at their expense?”

    Short answer: Yes.

    Everyone knows that our system is one that guarantees that relatively few children will graduate with a meaningful education and, instead of dismantling the system, some of us have committed to fighting to ensure that our children are one of the relative few while the rest have pretty much given up.

    • Is the best answer to create more classes for different professions? More trade subjects for instance?

    • I definitely think that’s part of the solution. We need to stop pretending that this society runs on doctors, lawyers and engineers.

      I know of one secondary school where students are offered vocational and business-related subjects alongside the core curriculum (and then job training over the July-August break) and that’s a good step towards acknowledging that the core curriculum doesn’t necessarily teach them everything they need to know AND acknowledging that students don’t necessarily have to be academically inclined in the traditional sense to have a future.

      Aside from that, I think it’s past time to scrap the prestige system. By definition, it guarantees that all educational experiences aren’t created equal and encourages us to be comfortable with the idea that some won’t get a meaningful education at all (as long as we and those we care about do).

    • I think we should not conflate classes like that with professions…

  12. “As a sociologist, I lay the blame for most of our social issues at the feet of our failed education system, which, despite glorified phrases, have left, and are continuing to leave thousands of our students behind as is demonstrated by the numbers.” I strongly disagree with this statement!

    • Crime, drug abuse, domestic violence, religious intolerance, racial intolerance, poverty and intolerance to sexual preference are just a few of the major issues facing our society. Notwithstanding the lack of statistical data, the trend would indicate that each of the above is on the increase. Is that an indication that the education system that was in place is declining in effectiveness? Or are there other factors which are affecting them? I’m not saying education isn’t a factor but is the main factor as put forward by the author?

  13. For a long time there has been no accountability with regards to school drop it became the norm. In the previous gov’t statistics on drop outs were demanded from schools and used to organize support services such as educational social worker being hired to stop trunancy and dropouts. But more support needed from community police to curb dropouts.

  14. I find it very refreshing that someone raises an issue based on class and not boring old race. However it is a great pity that the writer seems to be a victim of the poor education system. His grammar and punctuation is typical of Trini writing in the press that cause me to shudder.

  15. Calisa, I think education is terribly segregated already. Today, there might be hundreds of children who go from private pre-school to private primary schools to private high schools and probably never sit next to a child from outside their social class for their entire school life (and maybe childhood too).
    Imagine the rift between the different classes in 10 years time.