I wish to make a few comments in respect of the recent launch of the Character Education and Citizenry Development Programme by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education.
The institution of a programme of Character Development in our nation's schools is indeed critical to the children's holistic development. In at least two of my contributions in Parliament, I proffered this advice to the Minister of Education as a strategy to inculcate good values in our students to enable them to adopt socially acceptable mores and exhibit impeccable decorum.
I drew the Minister's attention to St Francois Girls' College where since 2003 a programme of Character Development was integrated into the curriculum. The goal of this programme was to nurture young people into holistically developed, socially well-adjusted, and principled individuals capable of making a meaningful contribution to our society.
The objectives were to induct these young people into the art of fine etiquette and social graces; to give them an appreciation of the importance of personal hygiene, good grooming and deportment; to stimulate within them a sense of heritage consciousness that would boost their self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence and assist them in resolving identity crises and coping with adversity; to develop within them positive values such as honesty, integrity, discipline, commitment and sound work ethic so that they could pursue and realise ambitions, and achieve excellence without compromise of accepted principles; to arouse within them a sense of social consciousness, civic-mindedness, environmental awareness and global perspectives that would imbue within them a strong sense of respect, responsibility and empathy for others, and an appreciation of volunteerism.
The Character Development Programme that became an integral part of the curriculum of St Francois Girls' College was as comprehensive as it was incisive and was — and continues to be — delivered by a group of well-respected local women of strength, widely recognised as having the requisite experience and competencies to successfully deliver such a programme.
The result was that these accomplished ladies have been able, over the years, to mentor and nurture these young students so that the objectives identified above could be achieved.
Why should the Minister seek foreign assistance when right here in Trinidad and Tobago there are experts in the field like Marguerite Gordon who has had 33 years experience in personal and professional development including etiquette? Since 1970, Ms Gordon has been facilitating developmental programmes for the corporate world and other institutions and has published a book entitled Manners & Entertaining that runs the gamut from etiquette to social graces.
As a matter-of-fact, for the past nine years she and other highly competent professionals in the field have been facilitating the programme of Character Development at St Francois Girls' College.
Over these years, St Francois Girls' College has been able to successfully utilise the knowledge, skills, competencies and experience available locally from Ms Gordon and her colleagues, such as Yvonne Popplewell, Jennifer Chambers, Barbara King, Joyce Harewood, Laura Franklin, Victoria Aguiton, Sandra Chin Yuen Kee, Farida Singh, Christine Wharton, Joan Bishop, AP Toussaint, Indra Ribero, Denyse Johnston, Joanne Johnson, Claudia Ottley, Dr Dorrel Philip, Medienne Mahon-Mahadeosingh and Carol Chauharjasingh, among others — all of whom possess a strong appreciation for the socio-economic and cultural complexities of Trinidad and Tobago, an appreciation that enables them to successfully deliver the programme, through interpersonal, face-to-face communication that facilitates exchange of ideas and venting of emotions.
Why do we have to journey to the US and pay $2 million to some unknown entity with three years' experience in "southern hospitality" to create ideas for a proposed Character Development programme that will be broadcast to schools.
I am certain that Trinidad and Tobago has a repository of competent, experienced and talented professionals from which we can draw the necessary role models, mentors and coaches (male as well as female) capable of "polishing our diamonds'' and transforming them into fine young adults of impeccable decorum capable of making a meaningful contribution to our society.
In typical fashion, the Ministry of Education is hastily implementing yet another programme in our nation's schools without the necessary consultation so critical to its success.
Hopefully, good sense would prevail and the Government would engage the key stakeholders in this venture and speak to those who have been successfully executing this Character Development programme for a long time, thereby leveraging the lessons learned so that the National Programme would be a success, leading to sustainable and transformational change among our precious youth.
• Patricia Mc Intosh is MP for POS North/St Ann's West and
former principal of St Francois Girls' College