Sunday, December 29, 2002

In the midst of all this clueless hand-wringing over T&T's accelerating crime rate, Peter Popplewell (with whom I used to work at Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi), in a letter to the editor of the Sunday Express today, makes the crucial point that harsher law enforcement can only be a short-term measure; the greater task is to find a realistic long-term solution to the social conditions which encourage in too many of our citizens a callous disregard for the lives, safety & property of others. As I've argued before, our best hope seems to be a massive social intervention via the education system, requiring financial investment on a scale currently unthinkable but ultimately necessary.

As Peter puts it,

"What we need to do NOW is to shift the focus on to the primary education stage, placing all of our attention and the resources of the country into building minds and attitudes in the three-to-eleven age group. When we mess up in the first six years of a child's life, we mess up for good. There is no way to turn that around, regardless of the amount of money and pretty 'ole talk' we pour into 'education'.

"I am talking about a full paradigm shift. We need some of our best educators and planners to come together and map a plan to meet the goal of what an eleven year old in Trinidad and Tobago needs to be capable of — the required levels of literacy and numeracy; knowledge of our country, the region and the world; the use of today’s technology (not limited to the Gameboy); a knowledge of and appreciation for our religions and cultures; a respect for our institutions; a sense of law and order, including respect for persons’ right to their property and the use of the road (remember the Highway Code?); a knowledge of basic health issues, hygiene and the responsible use of the environment; a knowledge of (not necessarily prowess at) sport, music and art. This is not new. Many of us actually did that."

But most of all, we need to ensure that the teachers in our schools are absolutely, without reservation, the best possible people. There are many fine women & men in our teaching service at present — & I'm grateful that I personally had the benefit of some of them — but we must face up to the fact that most of our schools now are not staffed with teachers of the necessary calibre. The only way to change this is to make teaching one of the most highly prized professions in T&T, & so attract the bright, ambitious young talent our schools so badly need; & the only way to to do that is (simple economics) to make teaching a very highly paid profession, on par with, say, the energy industry or banking or public relations. Anyone who says we can't afford this is either lying (we have & will have more money flowing through this country than we know what to do with) or else simply does not understand how vital our children's eduction is to our future as a civil society.

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