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PM wants mandatory 16-years school age

 IT MAY soon be mandatory for children to stay in school until the age of 16, instead of the current school-leaving age of 12 years, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced on Thursday night on her return from South Africa.

Persad-Bissessar, delivering an address at Piarco International Airport after attending memorial services for late former South African president Nelson Mandela, said it was the influence of Mandela’s belief in equality and education that led her to make the decision.

The Prime Minister attended the memorial events along with Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and other regional heads of State. 

They returned on Thursday night via a chartered Caribbean Airlines jet.

Rowley had been invited on the journey by Persad-Bissessar and was also chosen as her guest in viewing Mandela’s body at Wednesday’s service in Pretoria.

“Here in Trinidad and Tobago, as has been reported, the Caribbean Airlines aircraft which took us on our safe and historic non-stop journey to and from South Africa will be named after Nelson Mandela,” Persad-Bissessar said.

“Also, we will observe a day in Madiba’s honour as we continue to celebrate the incredible achievements of a man who saw us all as equals.

“This is a belief that I hold at the centre of all decisions I have to make as the leader of our Trinidad and Tobago. I will continue to be committed to establishing a society of equal opportunity and we recognise that such an endeavour is rooted in the education of our children. 

“This is why I have decided to bring legislation to extend the mandatory age of school enrolment—it will now be five to 16 years, an increase from the present obligatory attendance of children between the ages of six to 12.”

Mandela has in death engendered a greater sense of unity not only around the world but in Trinidad and Tobago and the region, said the PM, and she has discussed with her Caricom colleagues ways to continue to honour his legacy.

Persad-Bissessar said she believed a new sense of unity had settled on T&T, perhaps fuelled by the togetherness of the trip to the service. 

“Just as he led South Africa in bridging the enormous post-apartheid gap, President Mandela’s influence brought together over 90 heads of State and government, many of whom have conflicting political ideologies and various points of disagreement,” she said.

“Even here at home, there is now an increased sense of unity and purpose.

“I am sure that this, in part, has to do with citizens seeing my Government, the Opposition and other non-governmental organisations coming together with a common purpose.”

She said Mandela’s death had also “brought to the forefront the very spirit of our Caricom union” and she will continue to consult with her Caricom colleagues on ways to pay tribute to the late anti-apartheid hero.

She called on the population to follow Mandela’s example, as she had also done while in Pretoria.

“We too can set aside our differences, be they political or otherwise,” she said.

“As I said in South Africa, both Dr Keith Rowley, the Leader of the Opposition, and I may have different political views and at times we will disagree. But on one thing we will always agree on and that is we all want to see a better Trinidad and Tobago. We all have the same goal.”

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