We hear of “education’’; “a good education system’’; the level of education” and “highly educated people’’; “good schools’’ and “scholarship winners’’. The description goes on with “well-qualified people’’; “versed in the field’’; “an expert’’; and “specialist.’’

To fudge a definition from Collins English Dictionary , education is “the act or process of acquiring knowledge”, so that when a person is educated he/she is expected to display knowledge, culture and taste.

I can only conclude then that the growth in criminality, corruption, life-style diseases and shortage of jobs is a “deep red’ flag that the system of education in Trinidad and Tobago is outdated and in urgent need of humanising. There are more questions than answers.

Why are the jails overcrowded? Why are the elderly so uncomfortable? Why is the healthcare system overburdened? Why when faced with options the tendency is to be corrupt? How does the society interpret very profitable businesses and high unemployment rate? Why do we have to train people to be productive? Why is there a shortage of jobs? Why is there no congruence between training and the direction the society is going? Who is responsible for allowing the system to decay or not initiating the change? Are we still using the village to raise the child? Has the definition of family changed with the introduction of surrogate? Are families still grooming their children to be like the parents?

Religious institutions have long provided support when the family wavered. Texts guiding and predicting human behaviour abound in all religions but the messengers have lost focus and are caught in the whirlwind of building earthly empires. Gone are the days when pontiffs, pundits and pastors would have sacrificed their worldly possessions for a life in the hereafter. Many of the leading figures in religions are adorned with the trappings of holiness but their abilities and deeds are questionable.

Experience is the next best teacher. But who are our heroes? The CEO that earns over $5 million annually? The sports person with the most lucrative contract? The entertainer with the most popularity; our community leaders with the most “bling’’ or the drug-lord controlling the most turf?

Notice that in all these spheres success is measured in dollars, the use of which expires when the last iota of life oozes from the body. The more experts the education system produces the more the problems seem to increase exponentially. Bureaucrats and technocrats have sighted methodology, rather than content as the main culprit. The question should not be how to make school more interesting but what should be taught in school?

If education is about learning to live meaningfully, then moral values seem to be the missing ingredient. Life is presently defined as getting a job that pays well, enabling the purchase of a residence and fancy transport so that in retirement one can sit nice.

But there is life before employment and it continues into retirement. When the vital energy in the body is prosperous the individual must look after himself, others and the environment. When the body becomes diseased or decrepit one must be able to enjoy empathy, comfort and care from others.

The education system must be charged with teaching respect and responsibility and developing character so that the end product is honest and compassionate, exactly what the society needs. The theme that best describe the present education system is a “campaign of cure” in which people are allowed to pursue superficial goals and when things go wrong a prescription is given that may or may not work. It usually targets the world of work in training the individual and hopes that the person will gain mastery over other aspects of his life.

This phase in life is heavily technical-craft-academic- oriented. Success in this school phase is measured by results in examinations. The individual who does not meet expectations is labelled a failure and may even drop out from the system. Left alone to face life with no evidence of certification, employment skill, little confidence, low self-esteem, an empty pocket, this person is still expected to behave normal in society.

Deviant behaviour, corruption and all forms of dishonesty and the general deterioration of social institutions are the negative by-products of the system as it will be the automatic response of the majority of those marginalised. Monetary handouts given to these rejects will not contribute to productivity but will promote the culture of the “no effort syndrome”.

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Should school prepare us for life or to earn dollars in the employment phase of our lives? The blind rush to land a high paying job, rather than one in which the individual is interested and from which a level of satisfaction can be derived that exceeds monetary rewards, answers the question.

Getting a job and earning personal income is considered by many to be synonymous with life. Employment is the final effective role-play in this life and the opportunity to peak one’s performance. Outside of the workplace the worker’s life becomes insignificant. This justifies paying the employee minimum wage or anything close. Life skill courses, like EAP’s are offered in crisis situations in the education system and neglect in the workplace respectively.

Education must continue throughout all the phases in life, preparing the worker in pre- retirement and for retirement. While businesses hardly ever assist workers with the transition, people seldom ever proceed to this stage with eager anticipation. Boredom and neglect are the rewards for those suddenly awakened to the social reality that their services are no longer required. Soon death , the comforter evaporates the frail being from an easy chair or terminates its membership in a home for the aged or hospice.

Is education needed at this late stage? Society has deemed training in this end stage as useless. Why can’t this period be converted into a stage when the retiree makes a contribution to society without the expectation of monetary reward? The individual must be made to feel a sense of fulfilment in this life.

We have inherited a system that has outlived its usefulness but prolong it without analysing the purpose of education and the needs of the culture. Look how the society is reeling under the yoke of an inappropriate system. Let’s note the heavy cost and ask who or what will initiate the change.

• Part 2 tomorrow

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