Monday 26th February, 2007

Prakash Persad
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Harnessing creativity

Is diversity the mother of creativity? If one were to look at T&T one might be tempted to say that the evidence is overwhelming.

Here the values and traditions of many civilizations and cultures intersect. It is at such intersections that the springs of creativity tend to sprout forth and Trinis have shown themselves to be past masters in bringing forth creations that are manifestations of various permutations of the elements of our cultural milieu.

A prime example would be the artistry displayed in many of the Carnival costumes. They are truly excellent examples of ingenuity in design and material selection.

One is then truly puzzled by the fact that no formal systematic approach has been made to capture the experience and skills of these designers. Indeed, if we do not do so it would be something we would live to rue. This in fact is what has happened in other spheres of our cultural mosaic.

Ironically, the cultural community that ostensibly pays so much emphasis on the preserving of traditions has been one of the hardest hit. It should not try to lay blame anywhere but at its own doorstep.

If we ourselves did not ensure that the appropriate mechanisms were in place to ensure cultural continuity, then we must be the ones to accept the blame.

Today I would be more than pleasantly surprised if there are any practitioners of the Raja Harischand and/or Prahalad dances that were performed on the “cooking night” (the night before the wedding occurs in the Hindu tradition). The skills of dancing, costume design, drumming, singing and dancing have all become or are becoming extinct.

The situation is similar for birahar singing and drumming and indeed “classical singing and drumming.”

All these were based on folk traditions that our ancestors brought with them when they came from India and which were adapted here in T&T.

Indeed, it is my view that this spirit of adaptation, which is required to survive in any new environment and thus pervades the immigrant mindset, is what provides the foundation for innovation and creativity. In the case of Trinidad, this effect is magnified by the very diverse cultural mix.

This spirit of innovation and creativity pervades the art forms of many festivals and practices in the country and its main practitioners are outside of the educational establishments and their graduates. This cannot be allowed to continue if we are to harness our potential to transform the economy so as to eventually reduce our dependence on the energy sector.

The fact that our tertiary-level institutions seem in the main to be insulated from society has not helped the situation.

Indeed, there seems to be some unwritten law that scholarship must be separated from the general population or, put another way, the community of scholars is distinct and different from the community at large.

This is exactly the paradigm that has led to ivory-tower, slightly useful institutions and the general failure of tertiary-level graduates to impact in a significant way on social transformation.

There is a present, clear and urgent need to develop and strengthen the bonds between the educational institutes, especial tertiary-level ones and communities.

This would provide a platform for not only ensuring that our university graduates are sensitised to the needs and expectations of society but would also exert peer pressure on them for the purposes of them fulfilling these expectations.

It would also provide mechanisms for capturing the ideas, experience and know-how of those who have a track record of ingenuity and innovation in various fields of endeavour for the purposes of incorporating it in our syllabuses.

To give some examples: in mechanical engineering, design is a core course. Some of the costumes of the kings and queens of Carnival bands have won praise worldwide for their ingenious use of materials and creative design.

To date, as far as I am aware, no costumer designer was ever invited to share his experience with engineering students. No wonder our record of invention of devices and machines is so abysmal.

Is it not really astounding and mind-boggling that in the same small country there can be so dazzling a display of creativity in one field of endeavour and incredible sameness in another?

The transformation of the economy requires us to awaken that latent sense of innovation and creativity in our technical students so that we may also become great industrial innovators and equipment designers.

To do so we must move away from these rigid and artificial boundaries installed between science/technology and the arts. A transformation is required in education at the tertiary level to achieve this.

* Prof Prakash Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc

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