It should be obvious to most right thinking citizens that the situation in East Port of Spain and Laventille East and West cannot be “business as usual”. The situation is explosive and requires regeneration schemes that would seek to modify the fabric of the area. In that regard schooling has a pivotal role to play.
Social exclusion is now a worldwide concern and Britain in dealing with this thorny area in some of their local communities, implemented what was called ‘extended schools’. Since 2002, these schools are referred to as ‘full service extended schools’. They offer extended services to their students and to local communities. In such a setting these schools take their place as part of an array of area-based interventions.
One would have expected that by now our Ministry of Education would have gathered its own ‘disaster management’ team to provide intervention strategies for these learning communities that have been displaying some risk factors for some time now and that are symptomatic of the escalation of crime among the male youth in these communities. These risk factors include learning disability which is purported to be as high as 25 per cent, low achievement, high risk peer groups, poor attendance at school, low educational expectations, early aggression, health issues, family disruption and social stereotypes determining human interaction, for example, learned helplessness, victimhood and ambivalent self regard.
The solution to these risk factors would require early intervention at the Early Childhood Care and Education level and a radical change in approaches to schooling and teaching/learning at the primary and secondary levels. In fact it would require our policy makers to affirm their intent by the replacement of some of our administrators and teachers who are unwilling or unable to implement the intervention strategies.
It would call for the careful selection of a range of social workers, psychologists and counsellors who are familiar with these complex issues. It would encourage mixed ability learning whereby higher performing students would engage in peer tutoring to assist average performers to improve their attainment levels. Selected teachers would serve as coaches to neophyte teachers and mentors to students and higher performing students would be exposed to accelerated learning, individualised teaching and on line learning. It would also provide greater support for the All in One Child Development Centre in Beetham Gardens and the policies and intervention strategies of Servol.
At the individual level, the familiar adage ‘every individual matters’ or ‘none left behind’ would have to be the mantra as direct support must be provided to each member of the school community with pathways to other sources of support, for example, diagnostic prescriptive centres, and for errant students, student development centres. Levels of attainment would have to be improved, with higher expectations displayed by all teachers. Of course the teachers would have to be retooled to teach the boys do differently as they learn differently and to include emotional literacy for all students in order to combat early aggression and self-destructive behaviour.
At the contextual level there must be engagement with parents, families and the wider community to deal effectively with low achievement and barriers to learning, thereby facilitating improved attainment. In that regard emphasis must be on remediation, compensatory learning, less rigid demands on homework and curriculum relevance to real world application.
Our secondary schools in East Port of Spain, Laventille East and West and the Laventille Technology and Continuing Education Centre must be outward looking and include after-school programmes, job shadowing, education about citizenship, employment skills and the needs of the job market. There is a spiritual dimension to all of this that would allow the students to believe that life has purpose and that they should have optimism and hope.
Schools would have to bring in as part of their ‘extension’ a wide range of agencies to bear on the health, educational training and individual needs of the local communities, with attempts to coordinate work through forums and partnerships. Community resourcing would give the community access to school halls, playing fields, adult education counselling, tutoring and after-school activities for students including those with a staggered school day. Schools must become the nucleus of community based learning with extended opening hours and with weekend and holiday activities, thereby contributing to positive cultural change in communities particularly with regard to learning.
Crucial to this regeneration scheme is the development of new structures of collaboration that must transcend organisational boundaries and promote multi-sectoral activities. Schools may choose a cluster approach which would allow for one secondary school to serve other primary schools and local communities and share a range of resources including buildings, expertise, staff and information.
Of course the problem of standards will surface as schools will be expected to maintain their focus on academic rationalism even as they seek to engage in social reconstruction by interacting with families and community agencies to help overcome some of the intractable problems arising from being disadvantaged. The standards agenda would have to be revisited and be less rigid to take into account the broader successes of a holistic curriculum. It is expected that in the medium term the concern will be rectified as more mixed ability learners choose their community schools and as attainment levels improve generally.
If Trinidad and Tobago is serious about creating an education system in which everyone matters and we are serious about social inclusion and equality then schooling in East Port of Spain and Laventille East and West, and all other depressed communities, must be handled differently.
*Lennox Bernard (PhD) has been a teacher at all levels of the education system.