TWO problems of the education system that are perennial banes of parents and which education authorities appear helpless to solve are paid extra lessons and textbook revisions that raise suspicions about built-in obsolescence.
Interestingly, both involve extra income for teachers who profit from fees for after-school lessons and the sale of new and revised editions of compulsory textbooks produced by them.
Gone are the days when parents could comfortably expect to save money by passing down textbooks from one child to another. Taking their woes to social media, several of them have been condemning the revisions as being cosmetic and not important enough to warrant the publication and purchase of a new textbook. To one parent it looked like it “a money-making thing because when you look at the books, hardly anything changed”. Another parent brought out a camera and flipped through some pages to make her case that the changes which had warranted a revised edition were minor and included changes in the colour of the print and the cover design.
A mathematics teacher who authored a revised edition took offence and defended his book on the grounds that they are warranted by syllabus changes made by the Caribbean Examinations Council.
The continued high prevalence of extra lessons would suggest that despite the Education Ministry’s efforts to rein in the private lessons industry, it is more alive than ever and continues to thrive. This is so largely because, whatever their financial hardships, many parents are not willing to take chances with their children’s education and will do whatever it takes to keep them moving up the certification ladder.
In the case of textbooks, the problem of cost, especially for low-income families appeared to have been licked years ago when the government introduced a free textbook system in which selected and compulsory books were made available to students at no cost on the condition that they be returned in good condition. That system shifted the burden onto the state which, given its own financial challenges, eventually shifted the responsibility back onto the shoulders of parents.
However, this is 2019. The world has long gone beyond the age when children were led to believe that the answers could be found in a single compulsory textbook. All over the world, teaching and learning are being liberated from the confines of textbooks and classrooms as education becomes more agile, experiential and digital. While children elsewhere are being introduced to new and exciting methods that nourish their natural love of learning, Trinidad and Tobago remains stuck in the out-dated conversation about extra lessons and revised textbooks. The fact that we are still talking about such quantitative matters underscores the hollowness of the school laptop programme which was once touted as the vehicle to carry our children into 21st century learning. That programme collapsed not just because it was little more than a gimmick but because the transformation of the education system does not begin at the point of a laptop. Ultimately, the problem is not revised textbooks or extra classes, but a failure of imagination at the highest levels of the education system.