Dr. Keith Rowley is copying much of Williams, the founder of the PNM and first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and this is especially so in the field of education. He should know Dr. Williams did not succeed in this venture and so were the efforts of the British.
Dr. Eric Williams halted the Maha Sabha’s school building program in the 1950s, referring to its schools as cowsheds. The Maha Sabha and the Hindu community ignored the diatribe of Dr. Williams, having dealt with tyrants and miscreants for millenniums, not excluding the Moghuls and the British. Dr. Williams, they deciphered, was insignificant in their scheme of things. They persisted with their efforts to educate their young minds, not allowing themselves to get into any unnecessary debates.
But Dr. Williams also had a running debate with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s. This bitter rivalry came to an end with the signing of the Concordat, a document that acknowledged the role of the Church in education. Since Dr. Williams respected the arrangement made with the Church but today Dr. Keith Rowley is gambling on dismantling the Concordat, hoping to marginalize the role of the Church in education.
In the 1840s Governor MacLeod was the first to express concerns about curbing the influence of the religious denominations in education and to bring education under State control. And despite the reality that two-thirds of the population was Spanish and French-speaking, he wanted English to be the language of instruction.
Following MacLeod was Governor Harris’s intent to make education secular and to curb the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. His plan was to place education under a Board of Education appointed by the Governor.
In 1869 Patrick J. Keenan was invited amidst strong protest from the Catholic Church. Keenan reviewed the education system and made recommendations. The Keenan Commission recommended a dual system of education, that is State and Church-controlled schools; and power to the denominational boards to appoint and dismiss their teachers.
The Keenan Commission failed; instead, the number of denominational schools increased from 47 in 1878 to 147 by 1898. During this period the State schools increased from 35 to 57. This was a clear victory for the denominational boards.
In 1869 Reverend John Morton proposed a plan of education to teach Indian children. By 1874 there were twelve (12) schools-one government-supported, one paid for by the Canadian Mission and ten by planters. It was clear that the State had limited interest and resources in educating the Indians.
The Anglican Church and its schools were a desperate action of the British to have some social influence in the society which was Catholic and French-speaking. The number of Africans who were eligible for conversion was minuscule as the vast population was Roman Catholic and already attending Roman Catholic schools. Nevertheless, the Anglican Church was successful in building forty-two (42) primary schools and eight (8) secondary schools to date.
When Dr. Eric Williams came to power in 1956, he attempted to curb the influence of the Catholic Church. This led to bitter debates and was more or less put to rest with the signing of the Concordat.
When the windfall from petroleum came in the 1970s, Dr. Eric Williams expanded secondary education by building Junior Secondary and Senior Composite and Comprehensive Schools throughout the country. What was the real objective of this State-sponsored education? It was aimed not at education per se but to impose a creole culture on the multi-ethnic. Not a single aspect of Indian culture was integrated in the curriculum. Instead of making Indian students proud of their ancestral heritage, the education system was used to make to wean them away to accept that there was ‘no Mother India”.
In 1995, Basdeo Panday revisited the Concordat and granted new secondary schools to ASJA, Maha Sabha, other minor denominations in addition to government schools in places with heavy catchments: Biche, Tableland, Waterloo, Manzanilla, Valencia, Brazil etc. The school expansion program also provided students to the private schools, thus expanding the number of available places in private schools.
Despite this expansion, the performance of our education system leaves much to be desired. The performance of students at the SEA showed that a large number of students were failing. At the secondary level students were dropping out and the results were very poor. Anti-social behavior including bullying, theft, and confrontation with the staff was very much present.
An analysis of the students engage in anti-social behavior would reveal that they are coming from dysfunctional homes- single parent, drugs, poverty and so many social ills. It is these anti-social behaviors that are preventing students from performing well in their studies. Nevertheless, these problems are ignored by a government that is now advocating that these ‘non-performing’ students be placed in the so-called prestige schools; never mind these students had scored poorly in the SEA.
Dr. Rowley should focus on strategies to make parents more pro-active in the education of the children. This is not being done. Instead, Dr. Rowley is selling to the people that the system is stacked against them and being the new Messiah on the block, he would make their children scholars.