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Strait is the GATE: Is T&T suffering from false sense of entitlement?

Are we having the wrong discussion about GATE? Should the conversation be whether the government should sponsor tertiary-level education at all?

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14, King James Version.

My 14-year-old grandson is a Christian. No. I’m not talking religion; his name is Christian. He doesn’t live here but he takes an active interest in what is happening in the country where he spends all of his summers.

Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.
Photo: Education Minister Anthony Garcia.

So he happened to be here in T&T when Education Minister Anthony Garcia made his long-awaited, recent announcement about the adjustments the Rowley Government proposes to make to the Government Assistance for Tertiary Education (GATE) programme. And he was horrified—the word is NOT too strong!—at the subsequent negative reaction of so much of the national community to what has been proposed.

He kept complaining to me about what he saw as, in my language, the strong sense of entitlement that underlay so much of the whining.

He read the relevant articles in the newspapers, he listened to the morning and afternoon i95.5FM talk shows (only when we were in the car, which is at least twice per day from Monday to Thursday) and he got increasingly angry—the word is NOT too strong!—as the debate went on.

Eventually, last weekend, Fahrenheit 100. He read the opening paragraph of Andre E Baptiste’s Rio Olympics preview on the back page of Saturday’s Guardian. It incensed—the word is NOT too strong!—him.

I reproduce Mr Baptiste’s sentence here without comment.

There was some good news for the T&T camp yesterday at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero (sic), and it all occurred without much effort, other than the prayers of many and the hands of a few.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson (right) tries unsuccessfully to hold off Jamaica legend Usain Bolt in the first round of the 100 metre event at the Rio Olympics on 13 August 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson (right) tries unsuccessfully to hold off Jamaica legend Usain Bolt in the first round of the 100 metre event at the Rio Olympics on 13 August 2016.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“This is one of your students?” he enquired with ill-disguised contempt.

I assured him that Mr Baptiste was not, adding truthfully and even-handedly: “In fact, this is rather better than some of the stuff I have to mark.”

He blew a fuse, managing only an incredulous, “What?”

The next time we were in the office, I slipped him four examples of student work from my last Fundamentals of Reporting class.

When he was able to recover from the laughter that convulsed him, he wrote the following essay and e-mailed it to me, complete with his own headline.

I haven’t altered so much as a hyphen.

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Wake up and smell the roti

I was in the car when I heard it on the radio. It was a talk show, and usually it is filled with arrogant hosts, stupid callers, and worthless topics. Most days, when I’m going to work with my grandfather, I tune it out, reading whatever book I have with me in the car.

Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on 7 September 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Whaddap, cocoyea! A PNM supporter celebrates at Balisier House after the election results on 7 September 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

However, there was one topic that I was mildly interested in. Apparently, from what I could make out, the government was going to stop paying certain people’s tuition. I was greatly surprised to hear this, moreso the fact that the government was paying the tuition at all.

Now before I argue my position, I am American. I am also a 14-year-old boy. I don’t pretend to an expert on Trinidadian politics nor do I wish to be one. I am sure that people will say, “Why should an American boy be commenting on a serious issue like this?” Honestly, I really do not care. This issue is too big to not be debated.

Value. That’s a five letter word that impacts our daily life. I may receive a game for Christmas, play it, and then completely forget about it. Or a book that I may read eagerly in a day, and then not touch it for several months. Or an allowance that I spend in a week.

You see, the recurring theme here is that I do not understand the value of these items, because I simply don’t buy these things. Even in the case of the allowance, it’s my hard-working parents who produce the money for me.

And that’s the problem here. In America, we are all told the same thing from a young age. Save money for college. Get a scholarship. In the States, ‘you can be anything’, but it’s a helluva lot harder when you can’t afford to go to college.

Photo: A graduation ceremony at Howard University in the United States. (Copyright Freddie Allen/NNPA)
Photo: A graduation ceremony at Howard University in the United States.
(Copyright Freddie Allen/NNPA)

And although it puts added pressure on you, it really increases the value of going on to further your education.

Harvard. MIT. Virginia Tech are some of the best colleges in the US. Most of the people there don’t attend simply to attempt to scrape a pass. They go there because they want to be there. They go there because they want to learn.

The teachers there are excited to teach classes, because they know they are benefitting lives every time they come to work.

And that’s the problem. I simply don’t see the value in government paying people’s tuition.

Under the new arrangement, they will only have to pay 25% of the tuition while the government pays 75%. If you make less than TT$10,000 a month in your household, then you don’t have to pay. If you have a disability, then you don’t have to pay.

Keep in mind that the government will pay 75 percent of the tuition. 

I understand why people are angry. But it’s all emotion and bias; you have just got used to the fact that you can go to school for free. I totally get that. People get angry in the States when Congress threatens to cut Social Security. But Social Security and free tertiary level tuition are both luxuries, dammit.

Photo: An empty classroom. (Courtesy alamosbasement)
Photo: An empty classroom.
(Courtesy alamosbasement)

And one that your government can no longer afford.

Come on, Trinidad and Tobago. Wake up, and smell the roti.

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Strait indeed is the gate that leadeth unto the light and few indeed are those that find it.

AboutEarl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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20 comments

  1. Scotty Ranking

    Well said, multiple generations of Best. One of the sad things about our Trini “culture” is that once something persists long enough that people take advantage of, any changes to it excites the entitlement glands in many to the point where logic and rationale dwindle into nothingness.
    Simply put, GATE as it was run previously is unsustainable given the economic realities of substantially lower oil prices. Couple that with the excesses perpetrated within the system at both the academic institution and student levels, and you can see that something just had to be done.
    Whether the Government employed the best method to deal with it or even the best one available may be a matter for debate but that *something8 had to be done was inescapable. If the public at large really understood the value of what GATE was meant to offer, I dare say that there would be less hue and cry about the steps being taken to make the programme more accountable and in line with its original intent.
    Free paper bun! Reminiscent of an era three decades ago – fete over, back to wuk!

    By the way I am both a GATE donor (as a taxpayer of 20+ years) and recipient (as a COSTAATT student now of four years).

  2. I will like to adopt this chile. ..is he available?

  3. From the Poor to the Rich ! PNM children can be found in all political parties, ethnic groups,age and class. I mean that’s the mantra they shouted at the people of Laventille” allyuh looking for handouts” but the truth is from Junior Sammy to Jimmy Aboud “eating ah food” off the financial windfall of the government.

  4. Judy-ann Trini entitlement is REAL….that would have made no difference to the furore were having now….once you chubble they money they set aside to fete and drink alcohol to maybe be redirected to something else…..is problems….

  5. The grandson makes perfect sense especially when he spoke of people not trying to do their best. I saw too much of that in my time. Just look at how our free education in our schools is treated. We have too many people leaving the primary/secondary school system as functional illiterates.

    I wonder what people would have said if, as a result of our straitened circumstances, the government said that it was limiting its funding of tertiary education to certain specific areas which would be beneficial to the country. We need nurses, radiographers, social workers, etc so those are the only disciplines to be paid for.

  6. The premise of this is that education is a luxury?

    • I thought it was that people tend to appreciate something more when they are heavily invested in it.

    • “I understand why people are angry. But it’s all emotion and bias; you have just got used to the fact that you can go to school for free. I totally get that. People get angry in the States when Congress threatens to cut Social Security. But Social Security and free tertiary level tuition are both luxuries, dammit.”

      • Scotty Ranking

        The premise is that tertiary level education is in fact a luxury. Basic education is a right but in this country that extends to primary and secondary school. the fact that tertiary level education is a luxury should inspire those who have access to it to work hard to ensure that they make the best of the opportunity. For students to wilfully do less because it is “free” and failure appears to have no real consequence is partially responsible for the shambles GATE is in right now.

    • Fair enough. But then the author always stressed how education could lead to a better life pretty near to that paragraph.

  7. Agreed 100%. Let’s not forget the US is just one model with all due respect, there are other countries where some form of tertiary education tuition funding is provided by the government. I would also like if more attention is paid to the point about the institutions accessing GATE. I strongly believe this is where the majority of the wastage is taking place, NOT the students who may have bad grades for a few semesters or who may have changed their major.

  8. I doubt an American teenager is the one to answer this question. (Dieu-Deus-Dios)

  9. Akins Vidale

    I think a major issue with this debate is that we are discussing too many things at the same time. Do I think the Government has a role in tertiary education by susidising it. YES. We are a 54 year old nation and I cringe when we are compared with others who have institutions that are centuries old…and lest we forget the US has to have affirmative action to attempt to equalise access. So i don’t jump to the US as a model to be exalted.
    Secondly it is not a free for all…persons have to meet matriculation requirements to access GATE and further have to maintain GPAs for EACH semester and reapply EACH semester to qualify.
    Do I think that those who can afford to pay should, of course but I am not convinced that what was presented will ensure that.
    Additionally using age as a criterion is wrong. This has to be pulled back.
    An additional issue is about the institutions which are allowed to access GATE..this changed drastically in 2012.
    Then a lot of what you raise has to do with the actual quality of the education. That is for a time when we have a day to spare.