Demming: Pan should be part of education curriculum, to maximise its value

“Pan is in good hands,” they said—after experiencing the energy and exuberance of the Junior Panorama finals at the Queen’s Park Savannah. But is it?

The Presbyterian schools dominated the 2023 competition. Guaico Presbyterian Steel Orchestra scored a hattrick by winning its third National Primary Schools Trophy. NAPs Combined (students of Naparima Girls High School and Naparima College) won the Secondary Schools Competition, which they also did in 2019. (Ironically, the word NAP spelled backward becomes ‘PAN’.)

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley poses with the Guaico-Presbyterian Steel Orchestra after their success in the 2020 Junior Panorama competition.
(via Guaico-Presbyterian Steel Orchestra)

The Junior Panorama competition began in 1976 but was limited to schools. In 1983, it was opened to all youth groups and non-schools.

For the past 47 years, our youths have been showing up and demonstrating their competence with our national instrument—but how many of them can read music? How many of them even attempt music as one of their CSEC subjects?


Think of the potential impact if the approximately 1,000 students who participated in Junior Panorama added “music” as a subject to their CSEC certificate every year.

Think of the potential impact if a percentage of those students went on to create a career in the arts. Think of the potential impact that music can have on our lives if more young people were exposed to different genres.

Young pannists participate in the 2023 Junior Panorama competition.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Music has the potential to change culture by bringing communities together. In many other societies, music is being used as a vehicle for social change, community collaboration and healing.

Our education system is hyper-focused on academic studies that benefit corporate structures and we have not seen the expected returns on investment. Meanwhile, many of our youth who are not academically inclined are labeled as “stupid” for not passing exams but might excel at the arts and become productive and respected members of society.

To my mind, this is wasteful and irresponsible.

We experience the power of pan annually when our pan yards become places of joy and collaboration. We see our youths excelling there. But then it all goes quiet when the Carnival is over.

Some young pannists perform during the 2023 Carnival season.
(via Pan Trinbago)

Here is an opportunity to transform our society if we focus on pan as a permanent national mission and create community spaces for musicians and supporters to thrive.

It is time for us to move away from sponsoring pan as a corporate activity and consider it as a valid, alternative education—creating a structured national network of youth steel bands, spread throughout the entire education system.

Additionally, sponsors can provide specific support to individual music students as they transition to young adults.

The big bands are playing their part. Most of them make their pans available for youth bands to practice and perform but lack the resources to go further. The structural and systemic changes that are needed can only be done by the persons elected to lead our country.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell (centre) and Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore enjoy themselves during the 2023 Panorama.
(via Pan Trinbago)

The stated goal of the Curriculum Planning and Development Division of the Ministry of Education is: “to provide a national platform to show off the best of our students’ musical and artistic talents on the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago.” 

Until we transform this attitude from activity-based to a developmental approach, the next 47 years will see us jumping in and out of panorama competitions and talking about how beautiful it was, while our young men and women are lost when “The Carnival is Over”.

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