I write in response to Professor Theodore Lewis’s article published in your Newsday dated June 01, 2021.
As a young boy growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I can recall the names of some of the more prominent physicians at the time – Drs Bartholomew, Bushby, Byam, Butler, Mc Shine, to name a few. The common denominator – they were all Afro-Trinidadians. The legal, engineering, teaching professions were no different.
Indo-Trinidadians were not yet players in the field of academia. The majority were still toiling in the plantation while others eked out a living setting up little shops, parlors, vegetable stalls, etc. It was around that time that Dr. Eric Williams was elected to power and ruled uninterruptedly for the next thirty years (1956-1986).
In addition to the Ministers of Government being predominantly Afro-Trinis, the majority of top jobs throughout the Public Service as well as State enterprises were reserved for Afro-Trinidadians. Not only was there a black at the top of these institutions but throughout, down to the lowest ranks as can be seen to this day at WASA, T&TEC, Port Authority, the armed forces, etc.
My goodly Professor, you cannot deny that the Afro-Trinidadians had a head start in education. It was only with the advent of the Presbyterian Missionaries that the education of the children of the indentured laborers started. At that point in time many did not even speak English.
At that stage in our history there were already established Catholic, Anglican and State-run schools. Very few children of the indentured laborers were able to and did attend those schools.
It was not until the 1950s that the Hindus and Muslims entered the education system. It was the pioneering spirit of the late Bhadase Sagan Maraj and other leaders and the support of the Minister of Education, the Honorable Roy Joseph, a Syrian, that non-Christian denominational schools at the primary level were born. This marked the beginning of the proliferation of the “cow shed” educational institutions across the country.
Not wanting their children and future generations to suffer the same fate, the Indians saw a way out through education. Despite facing job discrimination at the hands of the PNM, as the Indian became educated, a few became teachers mainly in Hindu and Presbyterian schools while many went into small businesses – shops, small groceries, haberdashery and clothing and hardware stores, sale of car parts etc. Nonetheless, the vast majority remained field laborers and peasant farmers.
When the first oil boom came in the 70s, our Prime Minister-the Father of the Nation-made two most damaging statements- “MASSA DAYS DONE” and “MONEY IS NO PROBLEM.” These statements were grossly misconstrued and misinterpreted by the masses to mean that the country had money and there was no need to work. These statements destroyed the work ethics, particularly in the public sector. Everyone who has done business with the public sector employees can certainly attest to this with few exceptions. And to compound it, Dr. Eric Williams went on to introduce DEWD- a special works program which exists today as CEPEPP
Prof. Lewis in his recent article (Newsday-01 June), has conveniently refused to mention schools like St Mary’s College, Fatima, St Joseph Convents, Trinity and Bishops which, incidentally, together with QRC and St Georges -with the exception of the latter two – are all denominational schools and fall under the Concordat. Those schools were the ‘prestige’ schools pre-1950s through to the 1980s.
Exactly what caused the pendulum to swing this far? Lakshmi Girls’ College, established in the 1960s was referred to as the ‘see thru school’ being housed in a dilapidated wooden structure with spaces in the outer walls and wooden flooring. It took Lakshmi Girls several years to attain its first national scholarship which heralds the start of its ascendancy.
On the question of 20% intake where the principal has the prerogative to choose, that holds for all denominational including CIC, Fatima, St Joseph Convents etc. There is also the much larger 80% intake available to any student from anywhere, any religious or ethnic background, who puts as his/her first choice on writing the SEA Examination. Once the student acquires the grade, she is placed by the Ministry of Education into her school of choice be it Lakshmi, Convent, SAGHS etc. That is fact and that is the law!
When Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, visited Trinidad and Tobago in the 1960s and was leaving, he said that Trinidadians have a Carnival mentality. Trinidadians were angry with him for such remarks. Look at where Singapore with no natural resources is today and where we are after an oil and gas boom.
We have to stop the blame game. What we need to do is to take a critical look at our respective communities, identify social problems- alcoholism, illegal drugs, casino gambling, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, single mothers, etcetera- and identify ways and means to find solutions.
Changes have to be implemented but getting rid of the Concordat would not solve the problem. The playing field should be elevated, not guttered. It’s the only way we can progress as a nation.
Ethics and Values should be made a compulsory subject to be taught from pre-school to secondary level. I can guarantee you that if this program is properly implemented, we shall get the society we all desire.
We need to work together, Professor Lewis, if we are to create a better Trinidad and Tobago, not just Afro-Trinidadians but Indians, Chinese, Amerindians, Syrians, Mixed- all,,,all.,.all.
By Arun Singh