Copyright © 2002 Terry Joseph
Two schools of thought
By Terry Joseph
July 10, 2002
Westmoorings, an upscale seafront suburb just west of Port of Spain, is serendipitously situated between Cocorite and Carenage, villages housing lower income families and in some instances the starkly poor.
On its north, Diego Martin and Petit Valley, two of the country’s most densely populated towns, embrace a combination of both social conditions, albeit in clearly defined quadrants, ranging from the rolling lawns of Blue Range homes to close-living in squatter settlements.
Contrarily, mansions have been springing up high on the hill Diego Martin shares with Carenage and a few castles dot the Petit Valley side of a mountain mutual to Cocorite. Top-end property values in some elevated examples eclipse those at Westmoorings.
But on its lowlands, Diego Martin and Petit Valley can claim nothing beyond a shy sprinkle of independently-wealthy residents, a cadre cushioned by a large middle-class and compromised by pockets of low life components that compete well with—if not outstrip— lawlessness among comparative groupings in Cocorite and Carenage.
Diametrically opposed opinions from residents of Westmoorings and residents of surrounding villages therefore come as no surprise, even on an issue like the Education Ministry’s otherwise universally welcome promise to build more learning institutions; often considered a blessing in developing countries.
Arguments against proposed construction of two government schools on a 33-acre plot in Westmoorings range from pitiful to preposterous.
Although the ruling party has, from inception in 1956, triumphed in this area and peripheral constituencies, popular resident and public relations consultant Lloyd Cartar described the plan as a political ploy to win votes.
Having identified Education Minister Hazel Manning’s amateurish error in describing Westmoorings as densely populated, Cartar surmises she must mean Diego Martin and Petit Valley and suggests children of residents there be contained nearer their homes.
Citing potential traffic problems, Cartar, whose access to and egress from Port of Spain is catered by four and six-lane highways, is actually suggesting more schools be situated in Diego Martin and Petit Valley, areas currently serviced by narrow single-lane roads.
Quite likely, Westmoorings residents more properly understand traffic management, an education rewarded by immunity from police action against double-parking to drop off or pick up children from prestige schools, acts of defiance that effectively block crucial gateways into Port of Spain at peak hours.
But the planks of Carter’s protest are nowhere near as outrageous as that of Anthony Proudfoot, chairman of the Hi-Lo Food Stores chain that recently opened its most prestigious branch in Westmoorings. Presumably with a straight face, Proudfoot said: “It would be a curse to take a valuable piece of land and put schools on it.”
Interestingly, this country’s most expensive private high school sits squarely in Westmoorings, a stone’s throw from the Chamber of Commerce building, its tuition fees deliberately set outside the reach of even above average neighbouring villagers and indeed, designed primarily for children of expatriates.
Equally noteworthy is the fact that Hi-Lo stands to lose nothing but schoolboy infiltration of its upper-class clientele at the Westmoorings branch. And if the schools’ population comes exclusively from villages ringing the suburb, anxieties fuelled by prejudiced perceptions could well be masquerading as noble and pragmatic concerns.
Maybe Hi-Lo sees this looming incursion as the unkindest cut, since the company already demonstrates political correctness, overt liberalism and in all probability good business sense, by maintaining a less-sophisticated outlet in Diego Martin.
So, from the subliminal, let us now move to the ridiculous. No doubt in a fit of pique, one resident from Victoria Gardens, a middle-class community nestling in the glow of towering Westmoorings condominiums, goes as far as proposing the schools be built next door to official residences of the Prime Minister and President instead.
Pure foolishness, of course, and an absence of logic that only reinforces the need for more schools. And whatever the availability of land in the Diego Martin/Petit Valley area, it is perhaps the better idea to build a few of the planned schools in upscale areas where, we hope, some of the values residents so jealously cherish would rub off on those of less-fortunate upbringing.
The project could involve a new education management model, its scope not limited to behaviour in the classroom, with policing equal to the task of a continuing learning process that also embraces conduct in the streets.
Mark you, if the behaviour of Westmoorings’ upper-class is not what its public relations consultants would have us believe, or the community largely comprises CEOs and auditors of the Enron and WorldCom variety then, for heaven’s sake, let us leave the people’s children precisely where they are.
But determination to keep the underprivileged out of posh Westmoorings is glaring. Conceding under self-induced pressure that education is a good thing, the residents seem unable to do no better than summon up wafer-thin excuses for putting its crucibles somewhere else.
Mark you, the major clamour for a return by this country to the ranks of world’s most-literate come largely from the business class, which stands to gain first benefit, from having a better trained future workforce.
But pray tell, kind sirs, where are we to prepare these minds?
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