Sunday 1st June, 2008

 
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Symptoms of a failing state

A reader’s letter:

“I read your article of Sunday, May 25, and other T&T newspapers online. The horrendous rate of crime and murder in T&T is appalling to me, but as an educator for nearly 20 years, I have observed that there are many contributing factors.

“I noted your comment, ‘The ministry, desperate for teachers, lowered the educational requirements to a minimum in the recent past.’

“I meet more than the minimum requirements for obtaining a teaching position or any position with the Ministry of Education (three degrees), yet have had no luck with job applications.

“Yet, there always seem to be vacancies for those with five O-Levels and two A-Levels.

“Functional literacy is at an all-time high in T&T, and here I sit outside of T&T, seeking and hoping for an opportunity to contribute to the education system, and support myself in T&T, the land of my birth.

“Can you believe there is a high possibility that the very personnel who must decide whether or not I should be hired for any position in T&T may not even possess a quarter of the training, academic qualifications and experience that I have earned.

“How can that be?

“Widespread corruption and nepotism run rampant in T&T.

“In a recent discussion with others from T&T, we concluded that if the situation does not improve, the only people that will be left in T&T are those who are too poor to leave or can’t afford to leave; too rich to leave, since they own all the assets, inputs and access to production (power) and can financially survive; or too stupid to leave (illiterate) and/or possess the weaponry to dominate, control and terrorise the rest of society.

“We hope it won’t come to that, but T&T might very well end up in such a state.”

We are not yet a failed state. Just failing. It’s a matter of time. A society that breeds men who kill casually and walk away without thought is a symptom of a failing state.

Our battle is similar to the battle against terrorism. For every terrorist caught or killed, thousands more are thriving, filling the vacuum illiteracy, corruption and poverty create.

Pakistan is an example.

Combating terrorism is a battle for the minds of citizens. Guns won’t humanise the men who daily push up our murder rate.

In this battle to humanise our country, our only weapon is education.

In a recent interview, Education Minister Esther Le Gendre responded to my questions over the shortage of principals (over 100 vacancies) and teachers, and indiscipline and violence coming out of our schools.

“The people who are not working now are either unavailable to work or unemployable. The teaching service is subject to the same constraints as the rest of economy.

Which sector is not looking for people?

“We are in a situation of full employment. Jobs are absorbed by the construction industry, energy sector, banking. The problem is not salaries.

“We’ve had a recent survey that showed we have a very high level of satisfaction in teachers’ salaries.

“We are training teachers in three agencies—UWI, UTT, and University of Southern Caribbean. The classes are full.

“Regarding violence in schools, it’s not a question of being a ‘developed’ or ‘undeveloped’ country. I talked to a colleague in a European country about issues we face and he said ‘can we swap?’”

“He had ten schools burnt because of violence; on CNN you see schoolgirls beating up one another. We haven’t gotten to that point as yet.

“I am not expressing satisfaction in a global situation that makes us look better than other countries.

“Violence and indiscipline cannot be de-linked from parenting and community support. Every criminal, every cold-blooded murderer has a child, a brother, a sister in a classroom somewhere in the country.”

Now what?

A generation brought up on a diet of illiteracy and dependency has brought its chickens home to roost.

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