Saturday, December 16, 2017

Curriculum: the lifeblood of schooling

It is with great concern about the education of our youth that I write this piece. I have seen the articles written by Prof John Spence (Express, January 2) and Dr David Subran (Express, January 6). These persons are deeply concerned about the selection of consultants for this critical work for "Developing, Revising and Implementing Primary Curriculum" for Trinidad and Tobago among other responsibilities.

I share their trepidation when considering the track record of Mount St Vincent University (MSVU) in previous work done in the Secondary Education Modernisation Programme (SEMP). Questioning the selection of this consultant (Prof Spence has named Dr Robert Sargeant) is legitimate; moreso, the qualifications of the foreign expert must be examined (is it too late?) by the locally available curriculum experts.

Curriculum is the conscious selection and meticulous organisation of knowledges for teaching and learning. Further curriculum documents include methodologies and a list of materials and references. The outcome of this labour is normally a clearly articulated document. Curriculum not only reflects the selected subject content but also the culture and values of a particular society. How do foreigners who are unfamiliar with the local culture include the values and nuances which hold that society together? Are we still in a colonised state where foreigners know what is best for us?

MSVU and this particular consultant were hired under a previous government regime to do curriculum development for the Secondary Education Project.

Now under a new government regime, the same institution and consultant have been contracted to do same for the elementary schools. His expertise must be enormous to know in that kind of detail the whole range from ECCE to secondary education in T&T.

In addition despite the doubts about his expertise and production of curriculum for SEMP, he was hired despite a change in government. The common factor here is the responsible persons in the MOE who are promoting this institution and this consultant. How did this come about? The whole area of procurement must be examined so that we can do the best to develop our education system especially in times of scarce resources.

Is it time for us to show some signs of intellectual independence after 50 years of political independence? Do we have the expertise at our institutions of higher learning to warrant growing our own consultants? Can the MOE not do an educational audit to identify consultants within our system?

Clearly we cannot and should not rely completely on local expertise; those qualified people in T&T should form the core of any project staff with assistance from highly qualified T&T experts from abroad. At this juncture I would suggest that T&T has many qualified persons working abroad who would be able to fill many of these consultancies.

What are the conditions for getting a loan from an International financial Institution (for example, the Inter-American Development Bank)? I am sure that there are many criteria but if one of them is that we must have foreign expert(s) for the project, then we may conclude that this is a colonising institution. While it is clear that T&T cannot work in isolation, local autonomy must hold a primary place in our development even in this age of globalisation.

In any project of this magnitude, it becomes necessary to analyse the input gathered from the main stakeholders. During the field testing of any new curriculum feedback from teachers, principals, parent groups (and individuals) and university experts must be sought and considered.

In the case of technical-vocational curriculum, the major industries must also be consulted in addition to the above. We must be prepared to provide the best opportunities for our youngsters—every child can learn; we simply have to find the most effective medium and materials (curriculum) for the specified contexts to provide inspiration for our young learners.

Our nation depends on this and we must develop this capacity at home.

• Deo Poonwassie is professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Canada