This column is a
response to this reader:
“My husband and I are educators, having left Trinidad
over 20 years ago. We did not have the support of parents or anyone, but
paid our way and dues, living as foreigners in another’s land, daily
struggling and coping with the prejudice, broken promises and loneliness of
being different, looking different and sounding different.
“I am constantly reminded of our potential as a people.
I agree that education is the key. Sadly, mediocrity overwhelms the
education system. I personally know of teachers in T&T who do not possess my
qualifications and experience, but continue to draw large monthly salaries,
can’t wait for their three or four-day weekend limes and couldn’t care less
about the students.
“But, I will continue to attempt to return to my
country amidst the rapid brain drain, crime and mediocrity and my relatives
telling me that I am crazy to want to return to T&T to live.
“Perhaps, I can’t find a job in T&T, as I am viewed as
one who left and should stay out, despite the fact I love my country, refuse
to give up my passport.”
For every family who wants to leave, there are two who
want to come home. Just when you gaze at the wreck around us, the violence,
you see longing. It’s just home. Nothing can blow that sense apart.
Clearly, whatever we are going through as a country
now, the violence borne of illiteracy is reverberating in a sense of loss of
home in Trinidadians worldwide.
Despite this erosion, despite this loss, people long to
come home to a country that appears to be run by the sheer will of our
citizens who have dug in their heels, are “nah leaving.”
Amazingly, we are even thriving. I know we haven’t got
the teaching colleges. We haven’t got stringent teaching requirements.
We haven’t even got the teachers and principals. Fewer
and fewer professionals want to teach. Those who do want to get out, despite
the long holidays.
A year back, at a Form One meeting in St Joseph’s
Convent, the former principal Mrs Crouch said there were some 300 vacancies
for principals and teachers around the school system.
When you think of these rudderless schools, the
violence makes sense. So does the resilience. True, the system spits out
thousands of illiterate children. It also produces excellence, students who
will ensure this state doesn’t sink.
The big irony about providing free tertiary education
is that there are many teachers who are taking advantage of it, so that they
can get out of teaching to a more lucrative field.
Who can blame them? Most of them are young and bright.
They don’t see why they should stay in a service profession that doesn’t pay
I think, for what teachers do, their salaries should be
doubled, even trebled, so they would want to stay.
Despite the problems, my children are among the
thousands thriving in State education. In my interaction with their
teachers, I have encountered absenteeism, but also excellence and
Teachers have given me their mobile numbers, feedback
on areas that go well beyond academics (They are the parents’ eyes and ears
and protectors in the classroom) and on one occasion came home on a public
holiday to oversee a project for one of the children.
It’s true the system is such that nearly all children
who do well go for extra lessons, but parents don’t help teachers to do
their jobs when they react aggressively to constructive criticism that could
only help their child.
I am always surprised when a teacher hesitates to take
away a student’s cellphone during class, demand homework, or even discipline
In old worlds, teachers are next to God, next to
parents, because there is a recognition that teachers hold an entire
generation of civilisation and humanity in their hands, can determine
whether or not a state “fails.”