Letter

Covid-19 is calling out one of the biggest white elephants in this Caribbean space: education.

The educators are failing to come up with a decisive, way-forward plan, and are instead fumbling around with ideas that are at the mercy of the virus, leaving our children in start, pause, reset mode to add to the uncertainty the virus presents.

The powers-that-be continue to cling to the outdated ideas of running our pupils through this train track system and exams as a measure of intelligence. They remain focused on the “big” problems of how to choose CAPE pupils without judging a pupil’s ability to write an essay, how to send such pupils to university and how to fit a “whole” course into two terms.

The bigger problems like the fact that Internet access does not exist in every part of the islands, that some teachers do not know how to teach online classes, that the education system as it stands now does not promote resilience and self-sufficiency, that the learning after five years produces pupils with good memories rather than dynamic, proactive thinkers, are all being swept aside as the powers-that-be play “in the event of” rather than “let’s use this opportunity to reconfigure”.

While the powers fiddle with exams, they are failing to address that in the real world the tests of resilience, determination, independence, innovation, time management and self-motivation are all being tested now, and our pupils are passing without their exams.

Our pupils are living through a historic time; instead of the powers-that-be grabbing this opportunity to encourage our pupils to look up and around, to listen, assess and engage, to consider how this Caribbean space is being impacted, what we are doing, where are our shortfalls, they are instead telling our pupils to keep your heads down in the books, remember don’t recognise, and continue, through this time, to act as if passing exams is what your life depends on.

In the words of the great Caribbean philosopher, Bob Marley: “Brainwash education...to make us the fool.”

I see such opportunity for hearing our young voices, allowing them into the space of decision-making and change, encouraging doers, thinkers, researchers, in one Caribbean community. Imagine the idea of exams as rote and regurgitate finally thrown out as our pupils are asked instead to present research papers in various forms beyond prose, on Covid-19.

Imagine how this one virus presents true educators the opportunity for communication skills, history, mathematics, science, geography, social studies, economics, business, agricultural science, not to be tested but to be applied.

Imagine a new way forward for education that throws out impractical syllabuses and ­exams as intelligence, and presents pupils with a real opportunity for intelligence to be encouraged and expressed with topics such as:

Compare and contrast the efforts to survive Covid-19 with those applied during the Spanish Flu. How do our technological and medical developments compare from then to now? In what areas is the Caribbean too dependent on outside forces to survive Covid-19, and how can we change this?

We have been doing ­education wrong. We have been dumbing down thought, ideas, creativity, expression in exchange for grades, and we cannot have hope for our region growing in dynamism if we wipe out dynamism and growth.

The fumbling now of our edu­cators to come up with a creative, progressive plan instead of trying to stick “normalcy” into this abnormal situation provided by Covid-19 is testimony of how we have been surviving, rather than thriving, in education.

This is a moment for Caribbean shine. Didn’t innovation give us Carnival, pan, reggae, our unique cross-cultural festivals, and allow us to thrive in spite of colonisation? Where are our Caribbean innovators, makers, builders, doers? Where is our Caribbean vision of development beyond reproducing robots through education?

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I hadn’t intended to write a word; my feelings were raw and I felt that everything I could possibly say had already been expressed. I had already begun writing about something else for this column, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel that it was right to let my exhaustion with the ongoing brutality of humankind shunt me away from a principle I hold fast.

EARLIER this week, the Minister of Housing officiated at a ceremony organised by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in which 500 lucky would-be homeowners stood to benefit from a random television draw for the allocation of State housing. This was the expected end of the line for at least those persons, some of whom would have submitted applications since who knows how long ago.

I lived in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for most of the 18 years I resided and worked in the state, teaching at the University of Minnesota. I was offered the job there in 1990, and subsequently bought a house. Falcon Heights is a suburb that is equidistant from both Minneapolis and St Paul, the capital, about a ten-minute drive away from both cities. For most of my time there I was the only black person owning a home on my street, and indeed on adjoining streets.

To say that we live in difficult times is to minimise the challenges each and every one of us faces on a daily basis.

From viral pan­demics leading to broken economies which have given rise to a huge number of people struggling to feed their families.

A minority of social media users have voiced dismay that West Indians are fixated on opining about the injustice of George Floyd’s death due to police brutality.

Here in sweet Trinidad and Tobago, we have jumped on the bandwagon and stood up and expressed our diverse views on the ongoing racial tensions in the United States, but I ask us to step back and look at our country.