Keith and Kamla on race, education


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 03 Dec 00

In part two of this two-part series, Ira Mathur talks with Education Minister and UNC candidate for Siparia, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and PNM candidate fro Diego Martin West, Keith Rowley, on the issues of race and Education.



Keith Rowley:

The country is more polarised than ever, but I blame the UNC Government for that. I challenge anyone who has ever heard me espousing anything racist to come forward. If they paint me as a racial bogeyman there is nothing I can do about it.


I agree with you that people vote along racial lines. There is a knee-jerk element to it, but this is not, as far as the PNM is concerned, an election about race. It is about bad government. I tell the population (that) I have every confidence they will vote out a party that has squandered and siphoned off our people’s resources.


But, since you raised it as an issue, let us look at our list of candidates. That will tell you how much of an inclusive party we are. We have more Indian than Afro Trinidadian candidates. We have White and Syrian candidates. Anthony Elias: a Syrian in San Fernando West, Jarrette Narine: an Indian in Arouca North, Colm Imbert: a White man in Diego Martin East, John Rahael in PoS North.


Kamla Persad-Bissessar:

Race has nothing to do with elections. Like Mr Panday says, you cannot take race to the supermarket, to school for your child, as gas for your car, to build a house. The citizens of this country are right-thinking and will take these issues into consideration when they determine the new Government.


Our team is performance-oriented, national in scope and reflects unity of our rainbow country. Our team clearly demonstrates its commitment towards women and their concerns in the decision-making arena. The PNM’s history has been one of exclusivity. Remember when Patrick Manning said he was looking for Indian ministers despite the fact the population is spread evenly between the races? We are committed to providing opportunities for all, regardless of colour or creed.


Despite difficulty from the Opposition, we have been able to pass what is a major milestone - the Equal Opportunity legislation that outlaws all forms of discrimination.




Keith Rowley:

Education is a big issue for the UNC. The government had the option to build schools since 1996. I was in the Cabinet that negotiated the loan that allowed them to build the schools they are rushing to build -at double the price in the fight to finish before elections. When you are putting children in secondary schools before they are ready, it is a recipe for failure. The Common Entrance (CE) was not abolished. It simply has been given another name. Next April there will be another exam. CE simply means all children in all schools are writing the same exam to get into secondary schools.


Those who pass will go to better schools than those who don’t. They should have, if they were serious about abolishing the CE, put in the Continuous Assessment Programme (CAP) since ‘96, so children got their grades from that and then did a final exam. They haven’t provided teachers with the means to carry out the CAP and the teachers know it and the Government knows it.


Kamla Persad-Bissessar:

Mr Manning stood up in Woodford Square and said the PNM’s vision since 1956 is “Education for all”. Between ‘91 to ‘95 he built not one secondary school, lifted not one finger to ensure tens of thousands of children left out of the system were given a place. Children were on the streets, in shift systems, in dilapidated schools, despite the fact the PNM had a plan - a white paper to move children away from the shift system. They didn’t do it. We did.


The Common Entrance was never an exam to determine who passed or failed. It was used to sift the goat from the sheep - in areas with more schools, more people “passed” and in areas with limited schools less people “passed.” We have abolished a system which catered to the elite in which the poor were being discriminated against, which was putting children on the streets. We have done away with tic-tac-toe exams, where 25 per cent was pure guess work and students left primary schools without being able to read or write, and replaced it with a curriculum with emphasis on learning mathematics and language skills.


We have introduced the Continuous Assessment Programme to 50 schools and will phase it into all schools.


This Government has built more than 50 schools. The increased cost for schools was to include the infrastructure for utilities such as roads and electricity that did not exist in rural areas and to increase the size of schools. The Planning Division of my (Education) Ministry has confirmed Mr Manning’s regime built no schools and only refurbished 11 schools. He created no new spaces even though every year 15,000 children are left out of the primary system, 10,000 left out of the secondary system.


Appeal to voters


Kamla Persad-Bissessar:

Remember, your right to vote carries with it responsibility to put a government in office which can perform effectively to improve the quality of your life, which can provide training and jobs for you and your children, take care of your elderly parents and grand-parents in a stable environment, and help you move towards a bright future.


Keith Rowley:

I think the voter should examine the last five years dispassionately. See how much better we could have done as a country if our affairs were managed properly. I want the voter to understand when the government does not prioritise expenditure, individuals of this country suffer and there is a price to be paid for bad governance.


The voter has to decide if she or he is prepared to pay that price. I have every confidence the electorate will vote on issues.



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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur