Sunday, December 17, 2017

In education? Oh, the shame of it!


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I am ashamed that after 50 years of independence and 60 years of the existence of the University of the West Indies (UWI), this country is going to a little known Canadian university for "Developing, Revising and Implementing Primary Curriculum" and to conduct a "Baseline Survey of Teacher Performance, Parent and Student Attitude and Achievement". Oh, the shame of it. The University is Mount St Vincent (UMSV). This is the second contract given to this university and I shall quote from an article I wrote in the Express, April 10, 2003:

"The contract to develop the curriculum for technology studies has been given to an obscure Canadian university (Mount St Vincent University). This university is listed as number 40 in an assessment of 60 Canadian universities and its web-site indicates that it does not have any faculties dealing with technology. There are no faculties of engineering or agriculture and the science programme does not appear to offer degrees in chemistry or physics. Yet Mount St Vincent was favoured over UWI for the award of the contract to develop the curriculum for technology education in this country! Surely such a syllabus needs to be developed indigenously rather than by foreigners from an alien environment. Using a foreign university will ensure that the materials needed by the schools to teach the subject will have to be imported.''

"Mt St Vincent University has also been given the contract for the training of the teachers in technology education. This should be closely monitored."

"The recommendations of the Ministry of Education to the Central Tenders Board for the award of this contract comparing UWI and Mt St Vincent need to be fully exposed."

"Ironically UWI has done important work in the Caribbean in technology education and has produced extensive curriculum material in this subject that is being adopted by Caricom countries-except Trinidad and Tobago! In any event we should take every opportunity to build up our tertiary-level institutions by involving them in activities of this kind (even if this means foregoing loans from multinational agencies)".

I shall give two examples taken from the technology syllabus document which is the revised draft of the Secondary School curriculum—Form 2—technology education. The document states that "Dr Robert Sargeant, international consultant, guided the curriculum design and development process.

The examples given below are extracted from the biotechnology section of the technology syllabus.

Example 1:

Sensitisation of students to genetic engineering in plants and small livestock.

Year II Term II

2. Design a procedure for gene manipulation e.g., budding in roses, mating in rabbits.

I am certain that my readers will know that budding in plants does not in any way involve manipulation of genes or any form of genetic engineering.

Example 2:

Course outline Biotechnology Year I Term I—Suggested activity-micro organisms-

2. Perform technological process (fermentation) to convert raw material (fruit, sugar, flour, yeast) or (other?) resources into useful products: wine, bread, vaccines and antibiotics.

Production of vaccines in schools? By fermentation? Dr Robert Sargeant is the lead consultant in the two new contracts to be undertaken by UMSV.

At the time of the publication of this draft a colleague and I were interviewed by the then minister of education and we brought the errors in the syllabus to her attention. The minister, I believe, referred the document to the University of the West Indies but I never heard if any corrections were made.

Since the present loan, I am informed, is from the Inter-American Development Bank the item must be advertised internationally. Was it advertised locally? If we can build a $7 billion highway without borrowing from IADB why can we not do the same for the few millions needed for the education contract?

It is vital that a school syllabus be developed in relation to local mores. This is particularly important at the primary school level. Otherwise we could go wrong in the education of our children for generations to come.

Last year (2012) UMSV was ranked by Macleans in the category of universities that are mainly undergraduate, as number 17 out of 19 Canadian universities.

There are two important reports available on the secondary school curricula produced by the previous studies. One was prepared by Prof D Poonwassie of Manitoba University (now retired) a Trinidadian with a distinguished career in Canada, and W Anderson. Prof Poonwassie has recently been honoured by this Government by being one of five Trinidadians who were awarded the Distinguished National of Trinidad and Tobago Canada Award. In a report on these awards (Express October 15, 2012 by Carolyn Kissoon) it stated: "Poonwassie, professor emeritus, University of Manitoba, is the founding director of two groundbreaking programmes focusing on Aboriginal students. Both projects received National Awards from the Canadian Association for Continuing Education".

The second report was prepared by Dr Edrick Gift who has had a distinguished career in education in T&T having served on the staff of the School of Education at UWI St Augustine and a lecturer at a teachers' training college. Both of these reports are of extreme importance but seem to have been down played.

I shall quote from one of the conclusions of the Gift report (on the Secondary Education Modernisation Programme (SEMP), Curricula in Technology Education, Science and Social Studies) which goes to the heart of the issue: "The three curricula did not draw sufficiently from the culture, environment, and realities of Trinidad and Tobago."

How do we correct this situation? Presumably we cannot get out of the contract with UMSV. Government will have to commission UWI to conduct a parallel study to produce the Primary Education curricula. Is this a waste of money? I think not in view of the importance of getting our education on the right footing. I wish all citizens a peaceful and successful New Year.

• John Spence is professor emeritus, UWI. He also served as an independent senator.