A worthy investment
We join in congratulating the scholarship winners of this year's Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Exams (CAPE). Academic excellence is an achievement in which schools, parents and especially pupils can take great pride. The rest of us take satisfaction in knowing that as taxpayers, we are providing the financial base on which some of our most dedicated, motivated and hard-working youths can expand their knowledge and training and, in so doing, add much-needed expert capacity to the nation's pool of talent.
Each year, through these scholarships, we open up new possibilities for another cadre of academic high performers, many of whom score high enough to earn the chance to study in any programme, anywhere in the world at taxpayers' expense.
We are lucky to have the oil and gas revenue base to support an ambitious A-Level scholarship programme which has grown from 348 to 372 scholarships over the past year.
Trinidad and Tobago's investment in education, which reached $8.7 billion in 2012, has been a consistent policy of the post-Independence period, honoured by every administration from the PNM of Eric Williams to the People's Partnership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The policy is tacit recognition of the fact that, given our history of dispossession and denied opportunities, education can be the key for opening up doors of possibility to our young people.
The result has been a quite spectacular quantum leap in the number of people who can avail themselves of academic opportunities, from early childhood straight to university. On a quantitative basis, there is very little we can complain about.
What remains in question, however, is the qualitative strength of the entire education system.
In the particular case of A-Level scholarships, taxpayers have long expressed concern about the lack of data regarding the national productivity returns on every dollar spent on scholarships. For some, the question is cast in terms of the number of returning graduates and graduates seeking employment in the public service. While both are factors to be considered, they do not capture the less direct returns. The time has come for a comprehensive analysis in order to guide evolving policy and enhance public understanding of the system.
Shared with the public, such analysis could enhance public confidence in the scholarship award process and increase public support for it.
What does not help is the apparently arbitrary position adopted this year by the Minister of Education, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, in breaking tradition by withholding the full list of scholarship awardees from the media.
While we do appreciate emerging issues about privacy and the growing tendency to utilise confidential, online services for communicating student exams information, the minister could have helped himself by making a full statement outlining the government's decision and the rationale for it. Instead, by acting without due respect for communication, he has only succeeded in raising questions about transparency and accountability at his ministry even though the list was released yesterday.
In their moment of achievement and celebration, our scholarship awardees deserved better.