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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
And one that your government can no longer afford.
Come on, Trinidad and Tobago. Wake up, and smell the roti.
Strait indeed is the gate that leadeth unto the light and few indeed are those that find it.