Theodore Lewis

Professor Theodore Lewis

THE world learned from the case of Malala Yousafzai that the act of providing education to children is not simple, because education is a political construct. Educational inequality is a trademark of racist and sexist societies. Denial of education to blacks was a prime strategy of South Africa under apartheid. It remains a point of contention in the United States.

In India, the highest caste, the Brahmins, are the most educated. The upper classes in England go to expensive prep schools, Eton and Harrow, and to Oxford and Cambridge. A 2017 report indicated that Nigeria had the largest out-of-school population (10.5 million) in the world. The culprit here is that girls in Nigeria are more likely than boys to be kept away from school. In Singapore, they have pulled back from a time when Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founder, openly vilified the Malay people, to today, where the academic achievement gap between Chinese and Malay students has narrowed considerably. The Singapore authorities have been removing social and economic barriers that have impeded the Malay people.

In 1983, Jeannie Oakes published Keeping Track-How Schools Structure Inequality in which she showed that black children in American schools were routinely placed in vocational education courses which did not lead to university. In that same year, a panel convened by Ronald Reagan published the report “A Nation at Risk”, which called attention to the poor performance of American children on international tests, compared to Japanese students. This led to major education reforms and was the trigger for later legislation aimed at eradicating inequality in education, notably the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 under George Bush, and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, under Barack Obama.

Plural societies must be sure that their opportunity system is not imbalanced in its design. For example, this country has no Shouter Baptist secondary schools. When the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) results come out, there are no Baptist principals and preachers in the line with their lists, like the Presbyterians, the Maha Sabha, SWAHA, and ASJA. This is systemic inequality that leads to some schools in this country in which black children are hard to find except on the football team.

As in America, our Ministry of Education introduced National testing, in standards one and three. In 2016 the Evaluation Unit of the ministry produced a report titled National Test Results Trends 2011-2016. Different from the SEA, the focus was on schools, not children. Each school was given a score based on the performance of children on the test in English and mathematics. This was known as the Academic Performance Index (API). Each was placed into a category: Excelling, Mostly Effective, or Academic Watch. It was alarming that 78 primary schools in the country were found to be on academic watch.

Nothing has been done about these schools. If you attend them, crapaud smoke your pipe.

The following was the national picture: Caroni: 13 excelling, and one on academic watch. North-Eastern, three excelling, and four on academic watch. Port of Spain, seven excelling (six of them private schools), and 30 on academic watch. St George East: 15 excelling, and 18 on academic watch. St Patrick, six excelling and five on academic watch. South-East, six excelling, and ten on academic watch. Victoria, 19 excelling and four on academic watch (including the two Anglican schools near train line, Marabella), and Tobago, four excelling and six on academic watch.

The high-performing districts are Victoria and Caroni. Port of Spain and St George East, with high concentrations of African children, constituted a corridor of failing schools. The data also revealed that Hindu, Muslim, Presbyterian and private schools were out-performing government, Catholic and Anglican schools. Some schools produce our lawyers and doctors. And some produce our gangsters. Who cares? Not Sat Maharaj.

One place to look for clues to school performance is the reading competence of children. In the work of the Cabinet Committee on the school curriculum, we conducted a study of the reading ability of 450 children from eight primary schools. We found that 75 per cent of children in standard one, and in standard five (the SEA class), were below the required word knowledge level for their class. The persistence of this problem in standard five means that many children enter the primary school with reading problems that are never remedied.

The Minister of Education in Finland told the Washington Post that in Finland great care is taken in establishing parity of quality across all schools, so the parents do not have to “shop around” for a good school.

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In 2015 our country, like Finland, took part in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), an international academic Olympiad for 15-year-olds. In mathematics they were fifth with an average of 531. We were 52nd out of 70 countries with an average score of 425. We are just not in their league. They make high-tech devices, Nokia. We fry chicken.

In this country there are two basic kinds of secondary schools, good and bad. The SEA is used to distribute children among them. Some go here, and some go there.

This far out from Emancipation, and the question of a sound education for African children remains up in the air. But if you say anything about this you are racist, are you not?

Every child of every race must be sent to a good school. Schooling must not be subject to a Play-Whe system, where parents check to see if their number is on the board on SEA results day. Every neighbourhood should have government pre-schools, and secondary schools of high quality, and the SEA must disappear.

Dom Basil Matthews did not support the Concordat...he violated it by opening St Benedict’s. Any child could come—Bobby Sookram, Andrew Yee, Sahadeo Basdeo, John Commissiong. He understood the requirements of democracy. The SEA is an unholy sorting device. It must end.

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