“[…] The pattern here is undeniable: the schools with the highest Excelling to Academic Watch ratio are located in Caroni and Victoria, while the obverse ratio is found in the Port-of-Spain and South Eastern areas. The other six areas have more or less equal ratios of good to bad schools.
“We know that the difference between the excelling regions and the underperforming ones is demographic: Caroni and Victoria are primarily Indo, while PoS and South Eastern are mainly Afro. The pertinent question then becomes this: what are the key social differences between these two cohorts? […]”
The following Letter to the Editor on the fate of Afro children in the Trinidad and Tobago school system was submitted to Wired868 by author Kevin Baldeosingh:
African-descent children are doing worse than all other groups in Trinidad and Tobago. This is according to a report on Port-of-Spain schools laid in Parliament on November 24 by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality, and Diversity.
Not only does the Committee’s title reveal that it’s a foreign-used import, but the report itself has an absurdly long-winded name: ‘Inquiry into the Right to Equal Access to Education with specific focus on the Underperformance of Schools in the Port-of-Spain and Environs District with respect to Performance in Terminal Examinations’. (It can be downloaded at http://www.ttparliament.org/reports/p12-s2-J-20211112-HRED-R1.pdf).
Of course, the report doesn’t actually say Afro students are doing poorly, but that’s what ‘Port-of-Spain and Environs’ is code for. So far, three commentators have weighed in on the Report: Selwyn Cudjoe, Theodore Lewis and Reginald Dumas.
The first two interpret most issues through a racial prism, while Dumas sometimes takes a pan-Africanist perspective.
So Cudjoe says ‘The children in this area (mainly Africans) will be condemned to educational backwaters even as the Ministry of Education (MoE) continues with its anachronistic approach of not educating our children’ (Express, 18/12/21). His solution is to eliminate exams.
‘If these standardised tests are falling out of favour with US schools, why are we holding on to this relic of a colonial past that condemns some of our best pupils to stunted intellectual lives?’ he writes.
Lewis, who is usually the most race-based commentator, makes only oblique references to group performance but comes to the same conclusion as Cudjoe: ‘Such results correlate with the circumstances, and to an examination mechanism that places children into secondary schools based on their performance on the SEA’ (Express, 12/12/21).
Dumas does not bring in race but, since his focus is on Tobago, the proxy is unavoidable.
He writes, ‘It’s a large word, education, with many facets: formal training, observation, discourse, thought, analysis, peer example, and so on. (In TT we associate it, firmly and short-sightedly, with ‘prestige schools’ and exam results.) And too many of us, insensitive by reason of class, ethnicity, region, political persuasion, etc (and combinations thereof), generally fail to see the wood for the trees’ (Newsday, 20/12/21).
The report itself at several points dismisses standard measures of student ability: ‘According to the Association of Administrators of Public Special Schools (AAPSS), based on the statistics, it appears that there were students who were under-achieving at the Primary School Level on the national standardized high stakes test. However, this may not reflect the student’s potential as having a lower score on a written summative test is not an accurate measurement of what a student has learned,’ it says.
Under ‘Contributory Factors for the Underachievement of Schools’, the report lists no fewer than 31 issues under five categories (school climate, socioeconomic status, student interest, absenteeism, neighbourhood circumstances). But throwing in every possible variable, including the kitchen sink, is less than helpful. Such an approach, first of all, does not distinguish between relevant and irrelevant factors.
Second of all, even if all the issues are pertinent, this approach is impractical, since not every issue can be addressed due to limited resources (and resources are ALWAYS limited) and priorities are not suggested. So the Committee lists 44 recommendations (with sub-sections) in its conclusion, proving its members worked really, really, really hard.
Sarcasm aside, I found especially egregious the recommendation ‘that the MoE should improve the Continuous Assessment Programme to allow for the identification of student achievement along non-traditional assessment means. The measures should cater for the multiple intelligences and special education needs of students’.
Any educator worth his salt should be aware that the multiple intelligences paradigm created by psychologist Howard Gardner has now been debunked, with Gardner himself no longer pushing the concept.
This is not to say that the Report is entirely useless. As Cudjoe, Lewis and Dumas note, the document is full of empirical data. However, all three pointedly avoid drawing the obvious conclusions from said data.
Let’s start with the most telling table in the Report:
The pattern here is undeniable: the schools with the highest Excelling to Academic Watch ratio are located in Caroni and Victoria, while the obverse ratio is found in the Port-of-Spain and South Eastern areas. The other six areas have more or less equal ratios of good to bad schools.
We know that the difference between the excelling regions and the underperforming ones is demographic: Caroni and Victoria are primarily Indo, while PoS and South Eastern are mainly Afro. The pertinent question then becomes this: what are the key social differences between these two cohorts?
Data from the Central Statistical Office (2011 census), MORI surveys (2003 baseline survey) and the World Values Survey (2010) all show the same thing: both Indos and Afros match on all significant social and economic measures, save one: marriage.
The marital rate among Indos is 50 percent whereas among Afros it is just 33 percent. Additionally, the rate of single motherhood for Afro women is seven times that for Indo women.
Among five ‘contributory factors influencing achievement of public primary and secondary schools’, the Report does list lack of parental involvement and interest in learning about parenting. The other three are socioeconomic issues, truancy and lack of interest in education.
According to the reliable pedagogical literature (which itself constitutes about one percent of all education studies and theory), only parental involvement actually correlates with students’ academic performance. Notably, young people from at-risk neighbourhoods (and Tobago) who perform well academically more often than not come from two-parent homes.
However, such students also always have above-average IQs and IQ is almost entirely genetic. This is why I use the term: ‘correlate’; it is not a given that family structure is a causal factor in student outcomes since high-IQ men and women are more likely to get married and stay married than lower-IQ ones and children inherit their parents’ IQs.
But, even if stable two-parent families were a causative factor, no one has yet discovered any policy that increases the marriage rate. This would require both cultural and financial incentives, such as religious strictures and lower taxes for married couples.
As regards the first, the evangelical churches and Black Muslim groups have been particularly influential, but not sufficiently so to reduce the rates of violence in Afro-dominated communities along the East-West corridor.
What, then, needs to be done to help Afro students? To answer this question, we need to consider the fundamental goals of education: to provide students with the basic knowledge and skills they need to become productive adults and to socialise them in a manner that facilitates social stability.
State-run schools are especially bad at achieving any of these outcomes. My suggestion (explained at length in the education section of my book Fix Twenty-Five) is that government schools should adopt a private sector governance model, which includes complete autonomy for the principal to hire and fire teachers, each school having control of its curricula apart from basics of literacy and numeracy, and a working apprenticeship system with private companies.
These solutions are based on history and pedagogy. The last era when Afros produced top scholars and a stable lower-middle class was in the pre-1950s, when the top schools charged fees, there was no minimum wage and the majority of skilled artisans were African-descent.
A modernised version of that system is needed to solve the problems of Port-of-Spain schools. But the Report deals only indirectly, if at all, with such policies.
And, since none of what I recommend is politically palatable, Afro children will continue to be deprived and abused by the State.