An Existentialist Crisis
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 09, 2020
It might be providential that Che Lewis's corpse was paraded around the capital city at the same time that we are talking about the goals of our educational system and the Venezuelan crisis. The simultaneity of these events should make us think where our society is (in terms of values) and where we wish to go (in terms of concrete achievements).
One of my friends commented on my last article: "Just read your article. It was like an oasis of relief from aggravations of life today…relief from the Americans messing up the world, from these damn Venezuelans intent on overrunning Trinidad with the support of the new world order UN agencies and some deceitful Trinis (including a judge and many UNC lawyers) and the criminal president of the OAS."
The influx of our Venezuelan neighbors poses serious existential questions about our future way of life. Roger Hosein, professor of Economics at UWI, says within a year there could be as many as 150,000 Venezuelans, approximately one-tenth of our present population, living in our country. While the prime minister seems to be aware of the implications of this life-altering trend, Dr. Roodlal Moonilal (UNC) described the government's response to the crisis as being "morally, legally and constitutionally indefensible" (Express, November 26). Moonilal may have been speaking of the deportation of the 17 juveniles to Venezuela but he seems blithely unaware of what this additional population means for our future development.
Joseph Mondello, U. S. ambassador to T&T, offered his response to the crisis. He writes: "It is perplexing that some Caricom member states (T&T included) claim to be neutral concerning the Venezuelan crisis, but have no problems criticizing the legitimate opposition in Venezuela or questioning the motives of those who support Juan Guaido" (Express, November 29). He suggests that our neutrality on this matter is responsible for the refugees that we see in our country.
President Trump who selected Mondello as the ambassador, trumpets "America First" and believes no international agency has any authority to impose any obligation or mandates on the U.S. I wonder if he or President-Elect Joe Biden, would accept 35 million Latin Americans (a tenth of the U.S. population) seeking to enter the U.S. as refugees.
Over the last five years, Germany, with a population of 83 million people absorbed about 1.7 million refugees from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, and Iraq at great discomfort of its population. The acceptance of these refugees into its workforce (the country was desperate for workers) left many scars. Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's interior minister, noted: "What remains is a division of society into those who consider the 2015 path to be fundamentally wrong and those who defended it despite all the criticism" (The Local).
Germany, the largest economy in Europe and one of the largest in the world, absorbed an equivalent of 2 percent of its population. It cost the federal government E87.3 billion and the states another E50.7 billion. Still, by 2020 460,000 refugees were still looking for jobs.
Under international law, T&T has a responsibility to help any refugee but every other country has the corroborating responsibility to help us meet that obligation. T&T is asked to absorb the equivalent of one-tenth of its population into its workforce, its schools, and to provide health services for those refugees. That could be disastrous for us. The T&T government should request that UNHCR call a conference to discuss sharing those financial burdens.
T&T is not equipped to deal with these newcomers nor, for that matter, the problems that face its citizens. Anyone who reads the Ministry of Education "Draft Education Policy Paper, 2017-2022" (DEPP) realizes that our education department does not have a clear idea about the kind of citizen it wants to develop. It does not see our people as social beings functioning in a larger social and cultural entity called Trinidad and Tobago. Rather, it sees them as materials, natural resources to be used, which would allow them to welcome the Venezuelans as additional "natural resources" to build the society.
What educational theorist conceives of an education "harnessing [sounds like an animal] and releasing the innate dynamism, innovativeness and intellect of the 21st century learner, intent on building human resource capacity, in pursuit of national sustainable development" ("DEPP").
Is education about developing a person or an economy?
How can we educate our people (I define education as the capacity to function purposefully in one's social environment) if we see the primary function of education as "contributing towards the development of the human resources, physical, mental, moral and spiritual of the community" ("DEPP), whatever that means.
Education is concerned with the difficult and challenging task of developing social beings to act humanely to one another in a multiracial and multi-lingual society. More importantly, it is faced with removing centuries of biases and prejudices that prevent us from seeing our fellow citizens as human beings who have a collective responsibility of building a more humane society.
The Venezuelan crisis and the macabre spectacle Lewis presented go to the heart of who we are and the type of society we wish to build. While we would like learners (both teachers and students are learners) to achieve "their full potential and become productive citizens," we cannot do so unless we understand that we are social beings who live in a particular social space that has been made by a particular history and way of confronting the world.
Our present crisis challenges us to think philosophically about where we would like to go as a society. In this context, I urge you to read "Learning and Education in Trinidad and Tobago" (trinicenter.com), a lecture that I delivered in November 2003. It might help us address the question more fully.
Prof. Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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