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
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
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
“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
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
“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
“We’ve moved promptly on it to
prevent further breaches and brought in both police and special security
“We will transfer those ideas to
Cepep progammes. Every good security system deserves a re-haul from time to
Esther Le Gendre, as told to Ira
Mathur on May 16.
(To be continued)