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Gopeesingh: ‘Education system hangs in limbo’

‘[…] with the exception of the few thousand devices donated by private benefactors, the MinEd, and by extension the government, has done absolutely nothing tangible or proactive to secure these much-needed [electronic] devices for our students…

[…] It is the tragic result of pure mismanagement and blatant incompetence on the part of the MinEd’s most senior managers. It has now reached a crisis level, and our education system now hangs in serious limbo…’

The following statement on the state of the education system during the pandemic was submitted by former minister of education Dr Tim Gopeesingh:

Image: Laptops (by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

I note with serious concern the minister of education’s latest claims that a ‘global shortage’ of electronic devices is to be blamed for thousands of students in Trinidad and Tobago still being unable to access online learning. According to a report published in the Newsday of 6 January 2021, the minister also worryingly states that this problem can last until 2022.

Mere days into the second term of this academic year, the minister has also admitted that there are still 35,000 students who remain without their crucial electronic devices. This underscores the fact that 10 whole months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education (MinEd) has alarmingly, and inexcusably, failed its constitutional mandate to provide an equitable, efficient education system for ALL of T&T’s approximately 200,000 students.

At the onset of the pandemic, the MinEd stated that 65,000 students were without electronic devices. To date, however, it has not provided any data or formal study, to prove the veracity of this figure. Indeed, there is a very real possibility that this number is significantly higher. Further, out of this 65,000 deficit, the MinEd had indicated that they were purchasing 20,000 devices for the students. Yet it is still working out the framework for the acquisition for these devices. It means that students will not receive them for months, or even years, if ever.

Also, with the exception of the few thousand devices donated by private benefactors, the MinEd, and by extension the government, has done absolutely nothing tangible or proactive to secure these much-needed devices for our students. The MinEd would have saved almost $130 million in the 26-week cessation of the School Feeding Programme’s financial application (approximately 130 days, at a cost of $1.1m per day).

Why did it not redirect about $65m of this money towards purchasing the 65,000 devices (at an average cost of $1000 or even less per device)? Also, the prime minister recently indicated that $18 billion had been borrowed for Covid-19 related funding. Yet, there has been no word as to whether any of this money was utilized for the education system. Indeed, taxpayers are yet to be told—where has the money really gone?

Photo: A classroom is sanitised in Kolkata.

Further, with schools due to open in February, parents, teachers and students have still not been told as to how many of them are structurally safe and ready (i.e. whether they have been fitted with the necessary sanitization programmes and facilities).

The reality is that information provided by the MinEd lacks solid data. This is indefensible, especially since there are over 100 school supervisors, nearly 500 student support services officers and almost 800 principals available to do the research needed to give the public a proper understanding of the true state of our education system in this ‘pandemic new normal’.

The MinEd, therefore, stands guilty of a serious lack of accountability and transparency, as well as an alarming indifference to the plight of our nation’s students, teachers and parents. This is simply untenable and unacceptable. It is the tragic result of pure mismanagement and blatant incompetence on the part of the MinEd’s most senior managers. It has now reached a crisis level, and our education system now hangs in serious limbo.

The minister of education must, therefore, urgently provide greater, detailed information and clarity to the wider population, to satisfy the questions that are being raised by thousands of parents and guardians, and even by MinEd personnel. This is especially important, given that the nation’s students have now lost nearly three terms of learning in the last and current academic years.  Thousands have therefore been severely impacted, and are now in danger of permanently falling behind in their academic pursuits.

What makes it worse is that it is chiefly the underprivileged children of T&T who remain abandoned and neglected by the MinEd, thereby left to suffer the most severe socio-economic consequences of a failed education system. Not only are the futures of an entire generation of students seriously compromised, but the short, medium- and long-term sustainability of our entire education system are now in serious jeopardy.

Our country simply cannot afford this at any cost. Any nation’s progress and hope of survival rest in the success of an equitable, effective and successful education system. The time has come for serious action by the government before it is simply too late.

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One comment

  1. The biggest indictment of the school system is that such an empty man could have remained in charge of it for so long.