Saturday, December 16, 2017

Whither goeth Tobago now?


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Now that the elections are over and the People's National Movement has leadership of Tobago for the next four years what can be expected of Tobago's development? Such discussion as there was during the election on the past performance of the previous Tobago House of Assembly (THA) seems to have concentrated on construction of buildings, roads and other infrastructure projects and less on economic and social development. The THA should now concentrate on social and economic development with a limited number of projects that can address development issues that can show actual success or definite promise of success, within the next four years. I shall outline briefly some proposals for the way forward for education and agriculture in Tobago.


With respect to education, about five years ago I attended a conference in Tobago at which a presentation was made by a (local) consultant on policy for Tobago which was to have been modified as a result of the deliberations at the conference and circulated to participants. That was the last I heard of this issue so I do not know if a policy was ever adopted and implemented. At that conference I presented a paper entitled: "Can Tobago lead the way for reform of the education system?" I shall refer to some of the proposals I made in that paper.

In a recent article ("In Education? Oh, the shame of it!"— Express, January 3) I referred to a recent contract awarded to a Canadian firm for: "Developing, revising and implementing primary curriculum" and to conduct a "baseline survey of teacher performance, parent and student attitude and achievement". I lamented that this was not being done by our own universities as reform of curriculum required local knowledge and understanding of the local mores. This is particularly the case in Tobago. In the current act under which Tobago operates, education including curriculum, is under the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) list (25 of the Fifth Schedule). My advice to the THA would be to set up its own process for reform of the primary school curriculum.

Indeed such reform, as David Subran has pointed out, must start with a determination of what sort of citizen we are trying to produce and then a decision could be taken as to what subjects are to be taught. For example why is geography not taught in our schools as a compulsory subject? Modern geography studies man/woman in the environment and so covers social studies and environmental studies which if taught separately do not give the integrated concept needed by citizens. What about religious education and civics (the latter subject was taught in primary schools in the past)? Thus merely a revision of the existing curriculum of the subjects being taught currently is quite inadequate.

My proposal is that the THA approach the University of the West Indies (UWI) and request that UWI take a leadership role in a consortium of our four universities (UWI, University of Trinidad and Tobago, Catholic Religious Education Development Institute (CREDI), and the University of the Southern Caribbean) to undertake a study on improving the education system in Tobago (including curriculum reform).

With respect to general monitoring of the education system the THA should adopt the UK system of independent inspection of schools. I quote from the UK Office of Standards in Education-Ofsted- procedures: "Inspection provides an independent, external evaluation of the quality and standards of the school. Inspectors must tell the school what it does well and what it needs to do to improve. They also look at whether or not the school has improved since its previous inspection. Inspectors sit in classrooms while teaching is in progress, examine the marking of homework by the teachers and question pupils to determine the level of their achievement.

Inspectors also assess the examination passes particularly in relation to those of previous years. They assess the effectiveness of the administration of the school and comment on the performance of the school boards. Further, they assess the relationship between the school and the community in which it is located. The physical environment of the school is assessed as are behaviour patterns of students and discipline in the school". The inspections are carried out usually once every five years and the reports are published on the Ofsted website.

Schools are very much dependent on the capability, training and experience of the principal so I propose that the THA set up a programme so that each principal be given two year's leave of absence (on full pay) to take up a THA scholarship to undertake a Master's degree in school management.


The first proposal is to increase cocoa production with a view to local processing into high quality chocolate for export based on the fine flavour varieties that are available in Trinidad and Tobago. To achieve this, the THA must plant 1,000 acres of cocoa divided into 50-acre plots to be leased to farmers. Investment can be made into a chocolate factory to be owned by the farmers as a co-operative. Details of such proposals can be obtained from a report submitted to the Economic Development Board in 2011.

Tobago in the 1950s exported bananas. I propose that the farms which formerly produced bananas (now under the control of the THA) be used to establish groves of plantains which can be marketed fresh and/or used for plantain chips. A detailed proposal was prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1970s but was never implemented. When the National Alliance for Reconstruction was elected in 1986 I sent a copy (my only copy) to that government but again no action was taken for implementation. The proposals also suggested that the plantain chip factory be owned as a co-operative of farmers.

In addition to whatever grandiose plans the THA might have a few achievable projects—such as the above—that add to the island's income and give sustainable employment should be selected and implemented.

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

independent senator.