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President Kufoor's Massage to T&T

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 06, 2008

The recent visit of Ghana's President John Kufoor to Trinidad and Tobago re-emphasized the need for us to know more about our intellectual culture and to cultivate better citizenship responsibility. Not only was President Kufoor full of praises of the contributions that our intellectual giants made to his country and the decolonization movement, he even suggested that without them the intellectual thrust of the decolonization movement would be poorer. In his addresses, the names of Eric Williams, George Padmore, C. L. R. James and Sylvester Williams came out as though they were part of the Ghanaian landscape rather than the Trinidad landscape.

Each citizen should be aware of the intellectual contributions these men made to the social, political and economic development of our country as well as the colonial world. Whatever its academic thrust, the history of Trinidad and Tobago and the colonized world should be an integral part of UTT's curriculum. Any developed society should know the names of those who contributed to make it what it is.

Although UTT is designed "to meet the needs of Trinidad and Tobago for a highly qualified technological manpower base," it should develop conscientious citizens who are good technicians rather than vice versa and there should be sufficient oversight to achieve this important national objective.

UTT, as its website suggests, is an institution "with a different focus from the traditional tertiary level institution." It seeks "to develop the country's knowledge capital and as a result its competitiveness in the regional job market" and to play its part "in the development of a sophisticated society with the capacity for the application of cutting-edge information and knowledge." Such a thrust is really no different from the four-year and community colleges in the United States whose main thrust consists in transmitting "technical knowledge to future employees of the U.S. labor market" as Stanley Aronowitz suggests. But is this all that we should ask from a national institution that seeks to develop a "sophisticated society"?

UTT's description of itself revolves around the word "sophisticated" by which I understand the founders to mean making its students more enlightened in the ways of its society; or, at any rate, to become less naïve and more worldly about national and international tasks. In this context, UTT should seek to develop conscientious citizens who are good engineers or good petroleum technicians or whether it wishes to develop cutting-edge information specialists who may be lousy citizens. Emphasis here is important. Frank Rhodes, the former president of Cornell University, puts the matter in a succinct form when he observed: "I believe the purpose of an undergraduate education is to develop a person of judgment, discernment, and balance, with professional competence in some specific area…We should strive to produce not only competent engineers, for example, but also engineers who practice their profession with a keen appreciation of social, economic and national environment in which they operate and with a sense of aesthetic scale and human proportion as well as the economic costs and benefits."

UTT should be a national institution that is designed to train future citizens to participate meaningfully in their society. A few years ago the Hon. Patrick Manning was asked whether Trinbagonians should study in their own country. He responded: "I would always recommend that you should do a first degree in your country, you should not do further studies there. You should go outside to avoid the academic incest…Your first degree should be done at your university." Certainly, a part of the question to our Prime Minister revolved around the issue: as it is constituted presently, is UTT able to educate our citizens to take their place in our country.

In whatever it does, UTT should differentiate between what educators call schooling and education; or the acquisition of skills which one can attain any place or the cultivation of a citizen which involves a more integrated exposure to the humanities, the arts and citizenship skills. If, as the Prime Minister suggests, an undergraduate must be educated (not trained) at home before he proceeds abroad to do a graduate degree, then our students not only be equipped with the best skills, even if they are obtained from the best faculty abroad, but should be socially responsible citizens at home as well.

A society may produce an abundance of engineers and technicians but if it does not provide a humanizing education for its citizens or those who come into its ambit it is likely to fail even before it begins. A society may produce more engineers than social scientists and humanists but if it does not educate its students about citizenship responsibilities it is likely to authorize increased anti-social behavior.

Professor Kenneth Julien is correct when he insists that "Excellent and sustainable performance in all fields of human endeavor establishes the reputations of countries, regardless of size." Such a goal is unlikely if the university does not open up its operations to all the intellectual currents of its time and particularly the work its citizens have done. That is the message with which President Kufoor left us.

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