Education over jet


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Category: Trinidad Politics 16 Mar 08

If there is one appointment I applaud in this still honeymooning government it is that of Esther Le Gendre as education minister.

I worked with her once when she was handling media at Atlantic LNG. She was formidable. She understood the politics of multi-nationals. She understood the population of Point Fortin. She understood marketing.

She had a ferocious head for detail. She held everyone accountable. She didn’t let up until she (rather we, who she had hired) got it right. When were rewarded with a rare smile, you felt like you had served the gods themselves.

The reason I say this in the past tense is I don’t know what politics has done to her. Working with leaders who seem unable to separate a policy debate from personality, race and party can be damaging.

A battle over policy (which could interfere with keeping voters ignorant, partisan and happy) could be fatal for her.

Seriously. I really hope Mr Manning doesn’t figure out how bright this woman is. She has the potential to lead this country.

As the pitying Gods would have it in our murder-a-day country she has been (probably unwittingly) appointed to the ministry that could be our life support.

Recent interviews with people from Laventille have revealed we don’t lack basics in this country due to the oil and gas that has filtered to Cepep, URP etc. People are fed, clothed and housed. Basic needs are met. Its upward mobility they are lacking. Unless they kill they can never earn more than minimum wage. That’s damming.

Illiterate nation

Do the math. It’s now too late for the children who have emerged in various stages of illiteracy out of our schools. The 16-, 17-year-olds lying in slabs in mortuaries. Ten, 15 years ago, when these teenagers who now shoot and get shot in cold blood, were in school there was something horribly wrong with the education system. Sure they must have had problems at home. But plenty of people live without fathers and with abuse and still learn to read and write.

These didn’t. Where were the teachers? Either they didn’t care, weren’t qualified, were overburdened, or weren’t accountable. Children were being pushed up class after class without learning to read or write. Not a single education minister caught on that the vacuum neglect created was being filled with ignorance and inhumanity.

When I asked a Laventille man recently what we could do about the young illiterate bandits who shoot and are shot in cold blood his answer was chilling: “line them up and shoot him. The police are hoping they all kill one another anyway.”

We are living with a kind of brutality where only brutal answers present themselves to us. People call for more police, hanging, guns for citizens. We’ve lost one generation. Can Ms Le Gendre save the next?

The government has “pumped” millions into tertiary education. But Ms Le Gendre needs to note two things. One, in this tiny oil kingdom, graduates are migrating faster than we can produce them so when the oil dries up we will so hollow out, and be left with big concrete buildings and no brain to run them.

Two, no-one is monitoring the millions spent on tertiary education. Last year, only ten qualified lawyers emerged out of millions of dollars of funding. There are numerous drop-outs, repeaters. No one is monitoring the quality of tuition provided in local private institutions paid for by the Government.

We are only breeding mediocrity, bare passes with which students can become frustrated secretaries or clerical staff who will man the half-empty buildings when this place becomes a ghost town with crumbling institutions, bereft of human resources.

Could Esther Le Gendre be the one to ask “Can I please have the money you were going to spend on your private jet, on education? On raising the standard of teaching and ensuring accountability in education? Please sir, an illiterate nation is killing us.”


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur