Sure indicator of a failed state


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Category: Trinidad Society 25 May 08


Apart from our murder rate, which, for a non-warring country, is among the highest in the world, another indicator of a failed state is an education system that fails to produce literate and productive citizens.

Even in the face of glaring evidence (just listen to the average person’s sound bite on the news every night), the Government has denied our functional illiteracy is 40 per cent.

This figure cited by the Adult Literacy Tutors Association, an adult literacy NGO, demonstrates that more than 400,000 people in this country can only read headlines and barely sign their names.

Thousands of schoolchildren have fallen through the cracks of our school system.

We have consistently spent a smaller per cent of our GDP on education than all developed and many developing countries (way behind Barbados again), which explains our falling status on the UN development index.

The ministry, desperate for teachers, lowered the educational requirements to a minimum in the recent past.

Add to this, the woes of dilapidated schools and school violence (just last week a St Mary’s boy was slapped and stabbed outside the school by students of a nearby school), and this is among the most challenging government ministries.

Following is the first in a series of columns in an interview, featuring Education Minister Esther Le Gendre.

First topic: CAPE leak

“The ministry’s response, immediately on hearing there was a leak, was to confirm the news, advise CXC and call in the police.

“By Friday, CXC (board) was in on the first flight from Barbados. We had a long meeting to discuss the way forward. The Education Ministry is a client of CXC, so the responsibility for the way forward rests with them.

“The process is a long chain, beginning with the setting of exams and ending with the final exam. CXC undertook their own investigation for the source of breaches and we did the same.

“For us, it begins with the acceptance of exam papers at Customs to the time they get to the classrooms on the day of the exams.

“A number of security measures are undertaken by the ministry. We are satisfied that everything was intact at our end.”

If all security systems were in place in Trinidad, but the exams were leaked here, does that mean that the breach took place outside of Trinidad?

That the papers were sent via e-mail?

“We’ve confirmed a breach. I do not want to add to speculation. It’s in the hands of the police.

“People have said this is a reason to go back to GCSCs. There are examination breaches worldwide, Australia, UK, the US.

“In the UK in 2005, 500,000 papers were recalled and in 2004 papers were stolen at knife-point there. It happens anywhere when people with criminal intent try to breach systems for their own gain.

“Every step of the way we have the students’ interest at heart. If we allowed the exam to proceed, the cheats would have had an unfair advantage.

“We looked at the issue of both students and parents having confidence shaken. We took that off the table and said, ‘Let’s re-sit the exam, despite the fact that we knew a number of students had done their best and cheats were few.’

“We need to ensure systems are sufficiently robust to prevent breaches from occurring, and if they do, retool and reset the playing field to make it even again.

“Despite the fact that we have confirmed no breaches in our procedure, we’re still looking at our security systems again.

“We’ve moved promptly on it to prevent further breaches and brought in both police and special security services.

“We will transfer those ideas to Cepep progammes. Every good security system deserves a re-haul from time to time.”

Esther Le Gendre, as told to Ira Mathur on May 16.

(To be continued)


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur