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Human rights, equality and diversity

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 20, 2021

Despite its fancy-sounding title, "Human Rights, Equality and Diversity: An Inquiry into the Right to Equal Access to Education with Specific Focus on the Under-performance of Schools in Port of Spain and Environs", the children in this area (mainly Africans) will be condemned to educational backwaters even as the Ministry of Education (MoE) continues with its anachronistic approach of not-educating our children.

While I was impressed by the amount of data the committee pulled together on the under-performance of schools in the area, I am not too sure that at the end of the exercise we are any closer to solving the problem of educating our children who, as the document said, are under-performing and underachieving.

Anna Singh, director of Curriculum Education, informed us that "we do not define schools as ‘underachieving' and more so on the premise that such levels of achievement or underachievement can [or is it cannot?] be assessed using terminal exams... What we believe that quality education speaks to and achievement speaks to, is the holistic development of the child in terms of looking at where their needs are, and assisting or intervening to make sure that those needs are addressed across the board."

If you cannot evaluate a pupil solely by terminal exams, how else can we define the abilities of those pupils who inhabit these under-performing and underachieving schools in these areas? Charlene Hayes was instructive in this regard.

She stated: "If one is basing underachievement on SEA results, one has to be certain that the SEA is a fair assessment... This is a contradiction to the curriculum, which for the entire primary school career is based on the holistic development of each child to their potential. However, it seems that all is dropped for a 100-metre dash SEA. What happens to catering for multiple intelligences we speak of, including technological skills as is needed at present in this remote environment?

"Many of these principals stated that there would be no question of underachievement if the following were included with equal weighting: sports, drama, music, character education and citizenship."

If a child is more than a terminal exam (the SEA), then most of the committee's attention should have been placed on how to de-emphasise the terminal examination and include the other intelligences to better evaluate our pupils. Yet, nothing in the recommendations speaks to this issue.

Reading this report, one gets the notion that we are dealing with communities whose children are a bundle of mental pathologies, not normal children who may be subjected to the kind of disruptions with which many children are faced. These children are seen as abnormal beings who are subject to trauma as a result of where they live, the poverty which they undergo, and parents who do not particularly care about their well-being. In other words, they are all psychologically damaged, special pupils in need of special programmes.

Hayes also noted the "low level of interest and motivation of teachers" in these areas. One does not see any emphasis on this point in the report. If these pupils, like their teachers, are so lacking in interest and motivation, how come they are so efficient at using modern technology, particularly their use of cellphones, as their schoolmates in Caroni and St Ann's?

Might it not be that these pupils are adept at these technologies because these technologies interest them? Might it not be that how our teachers teach is not conducive to the learning of these pupils?

This is not to downplay the hardships caused by the pupils' social environment or their parents' lack of interest in the education of their children. I am only suggesting that more attention should be paid to the role of teaching in a pupil's learning.

Singh commented: "There was insufficient staff to implement psychosocial, psycho-educational screening services for these pupils who live in communities with high levels of crime and violence."

When asked how many pupils were provided with psychosocial and psycho-educational screening services, the MoE was unable to say. Psycho-education refers to "the process of providing education and information to those seeking or receiving mental health services, such as people diagnosed with mental health conditions (or life-threatening terminal illnesses) and their family members".

This is a frightening situation. We are talking about the education of pupils in a community, yet all we can focus on is the "life-threatening terminal illnesses" of a pupil and a family, but we have absolutely no data on this matter. This suggests that if the terminal exam doesn't get you, then terminal illness in the community will.

Last Thursday, Harvard University announced that it would not require the SAT or ACT scores for admission into its university, "adding fuel to the movement to permanently eliminate standardised test scores for admission to even the nation's most selective schools" (NY Times, December 16). Critics of standardised tests in the US have argued "that they are racially and culturally biased and do not reflect the true ability of many pupils, but instead their ability to pay for tutoring". FairTest, an anti-testing group, says that 1,815 of 2,330 schools do not require this standardised test for admission.

If these standardised tests are falling out of favour with US schools, why are we holding on to this relic of a colonial past that condemns some of our best pupils to stunted intellectual lives?

Maybe the next hearing should concern itself with how to eliminate SAT and find another mechanism to evaluate pupils which allows them to be placed in schools where they can enjoy their human rights and the equality they deserve.

Isn't it time that we realise "a mind is a terrible thing to waste"?

Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe

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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
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