In the midst of a week of murder upon murder, and more police ‘ole talk’ but few arrests, Terrence Deyalsingh, the Minister of Health, gave an interview last Wednesday morning, in which he incidentally touched on not catching the persons who bring in the cocaine.
The interview contained his assessment of the state of young men in his constituency. In this column, I take issue with the minister’s references to education.
Before doing so, however, the affability of the interview was noteworthy. The minister belongs to a government whose primary response to challenge, criticism and even to specific proposals, is frequently to take offence.
This response takes the form of snarling, accompanied by an immediate attempt to represent the perceived offender—whether an individual or a representative body—as unimportant, uninformed, contemptible or malicious.
The Mighty Sparrow satirically sang in reference to an authoritarian attitude in a previous era: “I am politically strong, I am the weight of town, you can’t beat me in John John. Who is not with me, is my enemy. Who give you the privilege to get up and object? Pay your taxes, shut up and have respect. When I talk, let no damn dog bark.”
Of course, Minister Deyalsingh is the most practiced media performer in this government by virtue of the innumerable but very welcome, media conferences over the past three months on the management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Trinidad and Tobago.
He has overcome some tell-tale signs of irritation shown in the early days of the daily media conferences—happily so since it seems that incidents triggered by a lack of anger management are spreading through the politics.
While on the subject of affability, this is a good moment also to acknowledge the calm and rational presence of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Roshan Parasram, whose credibility ratings with the public are justifiably very high. In fact, throughout the interaction between the Ministry of Health and the fearful public, the added contribution of other medical and health professionals was very helpful.
On one of his better communication days, the prime minister expressly acknowledged these contributions. On 16 May, he told us that in his career he had functioned as a scientist and had advised political decision makers. He found it easy therefore to follow the scientists in the management of the pandemic.
His reference was undoubtedly to practitioners in the natural sciences.
The prime minister’s commitment to heeding the natural science experts contrasts with the failure of all of our governments, including his, to heed and to take more advice from our social scientists about education, social development, crime and violence and the self-esteem crisis in our society.
Listening to Minister Deyalsingh last week, he rubbed salt in the wound of this failure regarding social science. Having spent so much of this week’s space in appreciation of his affability, as indicated, I will deal with only one of the areas where complacency showed up.
The minister stated there was a problem with the young men in his St Joseph constituency. To my surprise, he acknowledged that they had to be ‘re-engineered’; but then he veered away from reality when he set about describing why they were currently disadvantaged.
Apparently, he needed to boast about the free education given to them.
He said of the young men: “They do not take advantage of the free education.” They do not go and get themselves certified in a trade so they could be, for example, electricians and ‘make more money than a doctor and lawyer’.
He said ‘they cannot pass an interview’ and need adult literacy to make themselves ‘employable’.
It is time for Minister Deyalsingh and all others going to face the polls to ask themselves this question: What is there to take advantage of in an education system in which CSEC ‘passes’ are the holy grail, without adequate technology and trade education options and from which the students emerge with literacy problems and insufficient life skills?
It is also well over the time to admit that the current education system has failed and is a priority for re-engineering. Take some more advice nuh.