Sunday 28th September, 2008

 
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A salute to T&T scholar patriots

Once again, the good news of the academic success of Trinidad and Tobago teenagers struck a bright and hopeful note against a national background in which much induces gloom so regularly.

Based on results achieved in the 2008 Caribbean Advanced Proficiency and GCE A-Level examinations, 167 girls and 90 boys gained government scholarships.

It’s a rare, win-win moment for the national school system, for high-performing students and teachers, and for the Government.

Exulting in the positives of the announcement, Education Minister Esther Le Gendre said the total of 257 “open” and “additional” scholarships cost just under $22.5 million.

It was a sum, she implied, the Cabinet was happy to commit to support the aspirations of young people described as “fine examples” of the all-round approach to school life.

The finest of the nation’s scholars, we are assured, are not narrowly focused, bookish, nerds.

Ms Le Gendre noted that one scholarship winner, chosen for the award of the President’s Medal, had, in fact, placed in the top five of the 2001 Secondary Entrance Examination.

Suitable recognition is obviously owed to such a scholar, keeping consistently to a high-achievement pathway.

While expanding educational and training opportunities, the Government should seek to encourage and foster highest-level proficiency equally by members of a T&T student elite, matching strides with the best of their peers around the world.

It is a need the Government appears to have recognised.

The scholarship recipients will have been enabled to complete first degrees, which some of them have already begun pursuing.

On Monday, however, Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s budget address offered further incentives to students whose high performance continues into their undergraduate final exams.

Those gaining first-class honour degrees, she said, could expect scholarships toward doctoral studies.

Another immediately heartening sign is that at least some scholarship winners are making open declarations of intent to return to T&T at the end of their training abroad.

This has been reported of one President’s Medal winner and also of Central Trinidad scholarship winners from secondary schools newly emerging into distinction.

Certainly, T&T needs all the trained human resources its expanding economy can absorb and retain.

Home is always where the heart is. Still, quality-of-life considerations, given rise to by rampant crime for one thing, are not invariably such as would induce nationals with internationally marketable skills to live here indefinitely.

Reports of crime-afflicted T&T business people voting with their feet to make it elsewhere point up a distressing potential loss of critically needed citizens.

In their turn, the best-intentioned scholar patriots can hardly be expected indefinitely to endure a social and physical environment degraded by the official failure to contain crime and maintain adequate standards of livability.

For the sake of T&T, it must be hoped that home-based opportunities will prove attractive enough to secure the return of home-grown talent and ability honed by advanced foreign training.

It would be self-defeating if the State’s scholarship programme should prove to contribute to the brain drain that has been for too long a liability for T&T and similarly-positioned countries.

A glance at the listing reveals a conspicuous number of scholarship winners in the fields of science, environmental, and business studies.

It’s a good sign that secondary schools and their best students are being encouraged toward disciplines of greater immediate and future relevance.

This country is being challenged to supply the quantity and quality of jobs in those fields to meet the demand for them its future high-end graduates can be expected to make.

Meanwhile, we can all join in the salute to our young scholarship winners, and to the socially conscious and nationalistic sentiments attributed to at least some of them.

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