But it is critical that Trinidad and Tobago – and especially the vested education stakeholders – seriously analyse the extraordinary decline of this crucial sector at this mid electoral term.
Such scrutiny should result in national outrage and a demand for decisive remedies by the Rowley regime, beginning with the dismissal of the woefully incompetent and visionless Minister Anthony Garcia.
The stunning and rapid reversals follow such gains by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration as the best academic achievements in 2014 and 2015, universal early childhood education, advances in technical-vocational training and modernisation of curricula.
Also, the extensive expansion of information technology, including delivery of 95,000 laptop computers and employment of relevant professionals, and construction of a historic number of schools and of homework centres.
- The PNM’s 2015 general election manifesto promised to make education “the highest priority” but, instead, its mid-term report card includes:
- Non-completion of 75 Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) centres, 49 primary and 13 secondary schools, 12 secondary blocks, abandonment of various maintenance and repair projects and non-construction of public libraries. (Source: 2017-18 report of Education Facilities Company Ltd., (EFCL).
- Forced and repeated closures of a number of schools for sewer, pigeon droppings and a myriad of other pressing issues.
- Non-delivery of computer laptops and dismissals of scores of information technology professionals.
- Drastic cutback in funding of the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme.
- Shutdown of After-School Study (Homework) Centres, which were established to provide critical support to students who require individual attention.
- Non-purchase of essential new textbooks.
- Curtailment of the vital School Nutrition (School Feeding) Programme.
- Scrapping of the curriculum that offered non-academic study, such as physical education, music, arts etc.
- Reduction of technical-vocational schools from 102 to 42.
- Whittling down of the number of Student Support Services officers (guidance counsellors, psychologists etc.,) from 750 to 350.
- Scrapping of the Parents in Education initiative, in which some 30,000 parents and guardians were directly involved in their children’s education.
- Non-renewal of Local School Boards, which had identified and assisted students with challenges.
- Sharp cutbacks of effective and modern schools safety and security measures and an inability to curb schools violence.
The result of this myopic rollback in significant gains means that Trinidad and Tobago has lost its momentum to a progressive learning society capable of effectively competing in the sharply competitive modern world.
There has been a de-emphasis on teacher training, on best practices in the system, on career advancement opportunities, on student security, on integration of non-academic studies and on general modernisation of the sector.
The crisis in education is a potent blow to the country’s development in its 56th year of political independence.
I urge parents, stakeholders and national commentators to raise their voices at the crumbling of the most critical education sector and to demand positive, focused and imaginative leadership from the Rowley Government.
Such direction must essentially include the removal of Mr. Garcia, the most bungling, non-performing and destructive Education Minister in Trinidad and Tobago’s modern history.
There must be concerted and consistent action to save the education sector.