Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-­Dolly, the SWAHA Board of Education, as a partner in education, holds a genuine interest in the equitable and transparent provision of educational opportunities for our nation’s children.

Therefore, we write to express serious concerns regarding the abrupt reduction in the number of scholarships and the new national bursary programme based on the results of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) 2020.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has said that the new scholarship scheme, which includes the allocation of scholarships in the ten cognate groupings, is aligned to the nation’s priority areas of development.

However, failure to articulate clear, comprehensive and credible change systems prior to goal setting has negatively impacted the future aspirations of our children.

Having chosen subjects in Form Three, many pupils would have planned their educational path well in advance of the CAPE 2020 sitting of exams and are now denied equivalent access to opportunities that were previously provided to their peers. Sensitisa­tion workshops or seminars about the nation­al priorities should have been conducted prior to this drastic change.

Greater consultation with all stakeholders should have taken place prior to the implementation of such a major change in the educational landscape.

Decision-making devoid of deliberation and the critical input of stakeholders can only lead to dissent and divisiveness. Our board, in solidarity with the sentiments expressed by various other denominational boards, believes that our presence and voice have been repressed in this matter.

All schools are currently not operationalised to provide the full CAPE subject offerings in all ten cognate groupings.

Schools have not been provided with the necessary staff and resources to allow equal opportunities for our children to pursue the groupings as aligned to the nation’s priority areas of development.

Therefore, the pupil’s freedom of choice is severely impeded by the absence of a full complement of subject combinations.

These unsolicited changes during an already tumultuous pandemic have not only added to the emotional trauma experienced by some pupils but also prevented them from obtaining the best possible opportunities for educational pursuits. We once again echo the sentiments of other stakeholders who have called for a phased reduction of the number of scholarships.

Notwithstanding the decision by the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago, we ask that consideration be given to increasing the number of national scholarships (based solely on merit) to 200 and awarding 400 national bursaries.

The relatively low weighting of 30 per cent for academic merit, equated to 30 per cent means, questions the system used to assess bursary allocation devoid of any prejudice.

The system of meritocracy is clear cut and lends itself to a very transparent way of assessing and rewarding. Conversely, “means test” leaves open questions that lead to subjectivity, disparity and ambiguity.

How are parents’ economic standing going to be measured? What formula is being used to decide which child suitably qualifies based on their parents’ earnings, or lack thereof?

Pupils should be responsible for their own destiny. The pathway to empowerment should be legitimised by the individual’s responsibility to work hard and diligently, and not be diluted by external assessing agents of their socio-economic status.

Objectivity and transparency must be the order of the day. Thirty per cent: 15 per cent allocation for alignment to priority areas of development and 15 per cent to extracurricular/contribution to community/country is quite a large percentage to decide the awarding of bursaries.

A comprehensive rubric to award 15 per cent based on a pupil’s contribution should be explicitly stated, and we must be assured that these recommendations come from cre­dible sources.

The SWAHA Board of Education therefore seeks to engage the Ministry of Education in discussions about the methodology used in the “means test”, “contribution to the community” and “purpose statement”.

The Ministry of Education must also be prepared to provide clear justification for any pupil who queries why they were denied a national bursary.

We seek to work with the Ministry of Education through our binding relationship to provide excellence in education. May our goals be seamlessly aligned and transitioned to enable the due process of effective decision-making and educational reform.

Pt Balram Persad

director of education, SWAHA Inc

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The news that the highly transmissible Brazilian Covid-19 variant has been detected in this country adds new urgency to the need to raise our defences against this virus.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley’s declaration that this country must now have contingency plans for the event of volcanic ash blowing our way and wreaking havoc within our economy, both of the strictly commercial type as well as in our agriculture, is a reality that we have to face.

WE are in another lockdown because of the behaviour of some of our young people whose main focus is to enjoy life with no worry about tomorrow. 

Recent contributions in the press have joined the consistent commentary of Basdeo Panday on the irrelevance, unrepresentativeness and ineffectiveness of our present system of government. Their conclusions point to the urgent need for constitutional reform.

Reading Caribbean Airlines’s decision to continue its intention to purchase the Boeing jets it has on order had me stunned in amazement. My normal splenetic delivery was silenced for once. My weakly-beating heart almost stopped its puny efforts to maintain my existence on this green earth.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries. It means that when the bank and other multinational agencies decide on the allocation of aid and development dollars, they’re given less access and fewer concessions.

Correctly so, you could argue. The poverty and deprivation I saw in rural Sierra Leone in West Africa were far worse than I’d seen elsewhere, including Haiti. Added to that, the country hadn’t recovered from a brutish civil war abetted by notorious Liberian warlord Charles Taylor—the kind that saw unspeakable atrocities, such as soldiers carving foetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women.

SVG, Haiti and Guyana are underdeveloped countries, but not as much as Sierra Leone. However, regardless of the facts on the ground or the numbers in the computer, the bank recognised that GNI per capita was an incomplete measure of a country’s development.

All countries are rich or poor to degrees that are macroeconomically measurable. But when climate change can wipe out some of them, GNI measures can’t capture that. Additionally, in the case of Caribbean countries, they’re set back decades by hurricanes, as Grenada was by Ivan in 2004 and Dominica by Maria in 2017.

A Caribbean or Pacific small island state can go from middling prosperity to poverty in the course of one natural disaster.

In a report titled “Small States: Vulnerability and Concessional Finance”, the World Bank acknowledged calls by countries in its Small States Forum (SSF) “to include vulnerability as a criterion for accessing concessional resources”.

It said that work needed to be done in defining a Vulnerability Index. That report was in 2018. And yet as I recall, the index was an issue at SIDS 1994—the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development held in Barbados 24 years earlier.

“SIDS” means Small Island Developing States. That is a misnomer, since big states were represented. The sight of Fidel Castro walking into the room and instantly causing a rock star stampede won’t be forgotten.

The World Bank’s Vulnerability Index incorporates “small states” of the SSF, including Namibia and Botswana. Namibia is two-thousand times bigger than St Vincent, four times Guyana, and mineral rich. Their resilience to shocks is much stronger than SVG’s. Why are they even in the small states conversation? This definitional elasticity doesn’t seem helpful to the cause of SIDS.

From SIDS 1994, the UN crafted the Barbados Programme of Action. Top of the list were climate change, and natural and environmental disasters. It’s remarkable that the World Bank was still talking about defining a Vulnerability Index more than two decades later.

Climate change continues to be the main consideration, but the volcanic eruptions on St Vincent should reopen the conversation.

Most Caribbean volcanoes do not seem to be a present danger in the way that La Soufriere in St Vincent is. Mount Liamuiga in St Kitts, for example, is a great hike. When you reach the top, you can descend into the crater.

Nonetheless, The UWI Seismic’s website says that “there are 19 ‘live’ (likely to erupt again) volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean. Every island from Grenada to Saba is subject to the direct threat of volcanic eruptions”.

In St Vincent, overseas relief kicked in to ease water and other shortages. But short-term emergency measures are not enough.

Here’s the bind in which small Caribbean states find themselves. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) told them that no, they have to compete at market price to sell their bananas and sugar. No more preferential pricing that recognises their disadvantages on economies of scale.

WTO regulatory insensitivity effectively killed these industries. In many Caribbean SIDS, all their eggs are in one basket. If that isn’t acute vulnerability, I don’t know what is.

For Caribbean SIDS, we should have been at a place where development aid allocation matches a universally-agreed index; and we have strategic, joined-up planning/execution from the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and others.

Small states partially compensate by playing geopolitical games of influence. Getting money from China or Taiwan. Throwing in their lot with Japan on whaling, to the consternation of their own conservationists.

It’s not enough.

Last week I wrote about how Montserrat has done since the 1997 eruption. They are a British Overseas Territory, but the British-funded rebuild has been sluggish. In my two visits in 2007 and 2014, little changed. I was told in 2007 that a new airport would be built soon. To date, it hasn’t.

However Montserrat’s former premier Reuben Meade told me last week that “the Brits covered all of our expenses for the volcanic situation during and post eruption”.

“They continue to fund some 60 per cent of recurrent expenditure each year”.

Meade said the task of Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of SVG, will be hard.

“SVG will need to find a donor to fund the continuing evacuation expenses which will be very high. Their economy will be in freefall for quite some time. It’s going to be tough for them”.

For SVG, mother country largesse is not an option. They’re nearly broke. Even if La Soufriere stops erupting and the pandemic is eradicated tomorrow, they’ll need smarter, long-term development engagement by donor agencies. A true measure of their vulnerability would be a good start.