Dear Editor: Venezuela crisis heightens need for education overhaul, so we can understand our place

EPL Infrafred Sauna

“I expect that President Paula Mae Weekes’ call for an overhaul of our education system will be met by something resembling an overhaul—or a series of scripted measures that can be reasonably passed off as one—which stops just short of questioning the purpose of education in the context of a national identity and global place, of a progressive, empathic, tolerant and critical citizen mindset and of visionaries actualised into action.”

Contributor Alana Abdool urges readers to consider the value of education and how Trinidad and Tobago can create a system that truly prepares us to tackle current global issues:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuela president Nicolás Maduro.
(Copyright Caribflame)

The purpose of education, in its most pragmatic sense, can be neatly—often dogmatically—summarised as follows:

  • To prepare individuals academically
  • To prepare individuals for work or to meet the demands of the job market
  • To prepare individuals for their roles as citizens within society

In a broader sense, the purpose of education is simply to fill or address a need. The shifts in any formal education system therefore, will be driven by the combined influences of the stakeholders who have an interest in these outcomes.

In a research article by Suzanne Rosenblith (2017) titled “Religion in Schools in the United States” she seeks to provide an overview of the historical, legal and curricular relationship between religion and public schooling in the United States.

The field of education is usually fraught with tensions far broader than those in this article—such as those over curricula content, methods of dissemination and assessment, the hold and influence of politics, the legal issues that arise in the course of managing institutions, educators and students and the ramifications of these issues.

These tensions are the result of a clash of entangled interests and ideals; oftentimes heavily influenced by both research and impassioned arguments over the idolised expectations of teachers and students and also, unfortunately, selfish agendas.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (centre) sits with students from her alma mater, Bishop Anstey High School (POS) at her inauguration ceremony on 19 March 2018.
(Courtesy Office of the President)

Nevertheless, this article, by examining the context of religion in public schooling, captures some of the major, diametrically opposing positions faced in education. These are the arguments that drive shifts in the role of education and that influence the purpose of education.

I expect that President Paula Mae Weekes’ call for an overhaul of our education system will be met by something resembling an overhaul—or a series of scripted measures that can be reasonably passed off as one—which stops just short of questioning the purpose of education in the context of a national identity and global place, of a progressive, empathic, tolerant and critical citizen mindset and of visionaries actualised into action.

Kevin Baldeosingh, in a recent commentary on the same call for an overhaul, lamented that measures proffered did not seek to challenge the pedagogical status quo, instead only reinforcing the same.

The pedagogical status quo is only as uncompromising, elitist and unforgiving as it needs to be to ensure that its purpose remains unchallenged and unchanged. As a student that passed through T&T’s education system, I always fully appreciated the privilege of having the few teachers who forced you, ultimately, to face that purpose. But the contrast to those who don’t, won’t or have no sense of purpose have been coming more blatantly into stark contrast.

“The Purpose of Education—According to Students”, which was published in The Atlantic, quoted some responses from US students who did a survey on their perceptions of education.

Photo: Students at Belmont Secondary School smile for the cameras during a visit from two-time Olympian Jehue Gordon.

One question read: “What role do you think school and teachers should play in students’ lives?”

Lilianna Salcedo, Grade 10, responded: “I think the role of teachers and education in general is to help us progress as a society. Not only in our smarts or technology, but to help us to progress as a human race: preparing us to tackle the issues that [our predecessors] couldn’t defeat.”

The perception of T&T’s students as to what they believe is the current purpose of our education system and what they believe should be the purpose would be an interesting revelation into both their ability and willingness to think past that reaffirming status quo that Baldeosingh was concerned with.

The response given by Ms Salcedo is indicative of a scope that lies far outside her immediate, personal needs for job security or simple academic credentials. It signals the perception of the need to face a new world with new problems. It identifies with a vision bigger than her and the deficits of older/previous generations in their ability to tackle some issues.

There has been increasing upheaval within political orders and challenges everywhere to traditional hierarchies of power. The world has been forced to think past their allegiances in the face of economic depression, oppression and war.

The threat of civil war in Venezuela is imminent and as a small island developing state, we are largely at the mercy of the superpowers who will readily shuffle us around like a chess piece. That is, of course, unless—like Ms Salcedo—you have built and educated a populace with a greater purpose.

Photo: SAGHS students plant a tree during the Plastic Bag Reduction Campaign.

To understand the effect of any existing purpose in education upon the current education system, I believe it may be aptly mirrored in the schools themselves. As described in Rosenblith’s article, schools are supposed to be microcosms of society that reflect both the ethos and values of that society.

To understand the purpose of education in T&T and the distance and direction in which an overhaul will take us, you need to look at: the response of overhaulers to new ideas, empowered challengers to a status quo, different cultural mores, the maturity of their response to issues, their readiness to take responsibility for and address existing deficits in education and for any perceived reluctance to face the same.

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  1. Agreed and I read the entire article.

  2. Don’t know if it is just my lack of education but I found this article difficult to read and I gave up. No disrespect intended.

  3. Actually our current education system should be preparing our children for the world of tomorrow (not the world of today)

  4. We wont succeed at such an endeavor without taking stock of what current and past education instilled, created or destroyed. Honestly.

    Without admitting it is that education that created the country we have today and the character of citizen and population.

    Do we want the same?
    What do we need unlearn, teach and cultivate to be…

    And that word, cultivate. Culture. Education decides, determines and directs that.

    Then, the time of education to employment is over. Globally. What does ‘That Next’ confer.

    Big questions. That the educational system did not even prepare the population to answer, process, or unpack.

    I would imagine this process would be great to start by asking every single student in this country their answer: from four preschool to fortyfour graduate.

    What an interesting prospect.

    • Precisely. ‘The next’ is not in view as long as we have an inability or unwillingness to unpack. Perceptions of the political fracas now in play-and there really is no other way to describe this, worse yet, the predictability of reviews are just that little extra kick in the ass- are a reflection of that pedagogical framing that has taken place. But after we unpack, if we do, the synthesis of whatever ‘the next’ constitutes, still is premised on a purpose. The younger generation needs to be that purpose and they are in fact guiding it and unwittingly, maintaining the status quo. Which is why it would be an interesting project to get insights into what they believe and what they want. How scary is that?

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