On January 24/25, 2020, 23 prominent persons issued a statement to “air [their] concern about the poor educational performance of children of African origin in Trinidad and Tobago”. They stated this problem amounts to an “education crisis in the country”.
On December 13, 2020, they issued a rejoinder: “We believe this is what democracy dictates. Here every creed and race, and social class and community and region must find an equal and equitable place.”
It is clear the under-performance of Afro children in the education system is still at the top of the black agenda. Accordingly, these 23 persons of African descent adopted an unmistakable black-race position.
Their stated solution is that the SEA primary school exam should be scrapped, and the Concordat agreement between the State and religious organisations be abolished.
Initially, their position was “the only criterion for secondary school placement is the proximity of residence” (January 2020). Now their placement criterion is “secondary school, preferably at the choice of parents, in conjunction with educational authority” (December 2020). The recommendation is, in fact, a total shift of education policy against the dual system.
Carl C Campbell, in his book, A Social History of Education in Trinidad and Tobago, 1834-1939 (1996), states the dual system was first passed in 1870 and evolved by degrees through conflicts and compromises. In his article, “Leaving African children beyond the school boundary” (Express, January 5, 2021), Theodore Lewis wrote “my colleagues and I proposed... that when a child has finished elementary schooling, he/she should move on to a secondary school, and that school should be of high quality”. He listed selected secondary schools. By “high quality”, Lewis means the schools attended mainly by Indo-Trinidadian children.
He added, “Indians constitute 35.4 per cent of the population, and Africans constitute 35.2 per cent of the population. The secondary school places should reflect these percentages... The numbers speak for themselves... African students are crowded out of the top schools by Indian children.”
In an article entitled “Do black school children matter?” (Express, June 18, 2020), he wrote “little black girls could forget dreaming about NAPS... unless you came in late to this country. You would know an Indian name when you see it”. He added, “We could reform the school system” for African children in both islands. To Lewis and his colleagues, the continuous success of Indian children in exams is the problem.
In his book, Inward Hunger (1969), Dr Eric Williams wrote that the free secondary school system should be a cradle for a “new nationalism” that should result in “assimilation of all the different cultural stocks and racial strains in this country”.
Williams added, “Let the secondary school be the cradle of the new society which has one aim in view—the repudiation of the absurd and irrational prejudices imposed on it from above.” Williams was clearly referring to Indian parents and their children.
It is sad that the sinister legacy of Dr Williams is being perpetuated to this day by the 23 exclusively Afro-Trinidadian education advisers to the ruling Afro-led PNM Government.