Theodore Lewis

Professor Theodore Lewis

Education in this country is a zero-sum game. Winners and losers. That is an old, anti-democratic model.

Former People’s Partnership minister Fazal Karim recently talked about the “best and the brightest”. Sat Maharaj boasted about the scholarships won by pupils at Lakshmi Girls Hindu College. But when we highlight only success, we deny ourselves opportunities to examine and to remedy failure. Education triumphalism—old fashioned boasting—by Sat, is what provoked Prof Courtenay Bartholomew’s letter in the Express of January 28, 2009. Sat was at it again at the recent dinner commemorating Indian Arrival, where he spoke of heroism Lakshmi Girls Hindu College—beginnings in cowsheds—and lectured about “emancipation of the mind”.

Suruj Rambachan also was at it, speaking of beginnings in cow pens, and suggesting that Indians should now “begin a national discussion on what it means to be a citizen.” One suggestion I have for Suruj would be to begin the discussion of citizenship by singing the anthem, which has a line that says, “here every creed and race finds an equal place”.

When Indian indentured workers arrived here, an immediate and transcending bonus for them was that they could shed the weight of caste. Yet some today have revelled openly in the politics of race baiting and a discourse of racial superiority.

Dominance in education is one thing but exclusionary education where the hijab is not welcome in the school yard is another.

The story about cowsheds in the 1950s is highly embellished, and in the realm of Brer Anancy. Tanty Popo walked me up the trainline to begin school at Harmony Hall CM School in 1953. I was one of about a dozen black children there. The majority were from Union Village and Tarouba. All of the teachers except one were Indian. Those who were not monitors had been trained at Naparima Teachers College. The school was run by Mr Dookeran who lived in the headmaster’s house right next to it. There were no government primary schools in Marabella. I represented Harmony Hall CM in a road safety competition that took me, along with Sookdeo Bispat and Ralph Babooram, to other CM schools in South to compete—schools like Grant Memorial, Vistabella CM, and Canaan CM. They were not cowsheds. These schools are still standing.

What Suruj and Sat should know is that throughout slavery the children of slaves were themselves slaves who had tasks in the fields from the age of six. Education in cowsheds would have been better than this.

Now to the current education system in the UK. That system is diametrically opposite from what Sat and Suruj have defended in T&T. There is room in it for faith-based schools, but not exclusive faith-based enclaves. These schools are about education, where you question, not indoctrination.

The current UK school system is comprised of two sectors, public and private. Private sector schools are referred to as independent schools. These are fee-paying. About ten per cent of children in the UK attend fee-paying independent schools, which are basically grammar schools.

Public sector schools are of two basic types (a) academies, which are publicly funded, and (b) maintained schools. Some 72 per cent of secondary schools, and 27 per cent of primary schools are academies. These schools have a measure of autonomy over the curriculum and the terms and conditions of staff.

One interesting dimension of the UK education system is the way in which it communicates information to the public, to be seen especially in the reporting of indicators of school quality.

A key device for this is the league table, which draws from football, where at anytime during the season one can see the relative standing of each team. League tables for education rank every primary and secondary school. The data is made available on the Internet. For example, the league table for primary schools in 2018 tabulates the standing of 21,044 schools. The UK curriculum progresses according to “key stages.” The league tables show school performance data for early stages (1 and 2) in reading, writing, mathematics, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and science.

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League tables for secondary schools in 2018 are also published. Results are shown for 6,374 schools. Schools are also given a score according to grades received by pupils in the GCSE exams.

The 2018 league tables also provide data for the A-Level performance of 4,470 schools. The tables report the grades for pupils’ best three A-Level passes.

Especially relevant to us here is the method by which a child in the UK gets into a secondary school. No, children do not have to compete with each other. In the UK the parent merely fills out a form indicating home address and which school in their locale is preferred. That form goes to the Local Education Authority. The child is then placed in a secondary school near home.

Schools have to be on their toes, or they would be sanctioned by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, a statutory agency. Poor schools cannot survive in that environment as they do here.

• Theodore Lewis is professor

emeritus at the University

of Minnesota


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