Deep difficulties in education involving institutionalised underachievement by males, the need for greater equity in the system, serious failure of the system to produce sufficient of a core of graduates for advanced training and to meet the needs of the workplace are educational issues which have been quietly raised recently and have not received a lot of media attention.
The first statement of alarm came a few weeks ago from former Education Minister Hazel Manning when she told a newspaper interviewer that a mere 30 per cent of secondary school students emerge from the education system with a full certificate (traditionally a full certificate means five passes at the CSEC level). Only a couple days ago, the present Minister of Education, Esther Le Gendre, said while the Government has been able to place almost 100 per cent of students into the primary and secondary school system, the real challenges have to do with quality of the education received and equity in education.
"The challenge for us therefore is the progress from ensuring equal participation and quality. Equity, which speaks to considerations of gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity and race, language and environment, is one of the bases of quality determination as defined by Unesco," said Minister Le Gendre. The minister also revealed that the curriculum continues to be deficient in meeting the educational disposition and needs of boys, the result being that young males are falling behind their female counterparts. Beginning with the UNC government and continuing aggressively with the present PNM administration, there has been significant and successful effort to provide places for all children at the primary and secondary levels.
The present Government is now in the process of establishing early childhood care centres in different parts of the country, and repair and construction of the primary and secondary schools continues. Those efforts will inevitably take care of the demand for universal primary and secondary school education. But as is clear, the country can ill-afford for 70 per cent of its young population to not be able to successfully navigate the education system and so become trainable to work at advance levels in industry and commerce. The developed country status that the Government is aspiring to will not be achieved without the technicians, engineers, research scientists, business entrepreneurs, academics, medical professionals, artists and all the other categories of workers that are required in sufficient mass to stimulate development.
The unbalanced educational development between males and females, the clearly geographical inequity in educational achievement, with its social class differentiation, are particularly worrisome matters. Social stability and harmonious relations between and amongst the social and economic strata of society are at stake here. It is the education system which has the potential for human development and especially mobility in the society–socially and economically deprived people being able to advance through the acquisition of an education to lift themselves and families out of generational poverty.
Undoubtedly, the present criminality rampant in the society is being fuelled in part by significant numbers of that 70 per cent of students who do not successfully make it through the education system. Having not achieved the basics, unable to hold down jobs, it is proving all too easy for young people, especially "the lost males," to get into the "wrong groove." There is need for a drastic overhaul of the education system–tinkering here and there will not achieve the kind of fundamental transformation required to re-engage young males in education–to ensure that there is a larger percentage of our students who qualify for the higher secondary and tertiary levels of education and skills training.