For many of us, school days were really happy days and perhaps those form part of our fondest memories. Like all students, we too faced daunting challenges and many may share the view that children today have it much easier in terms of accessibility to and affordability of a good and sound education. What has remained consistent throughout the decades is the fact that many schools are blessed with a cadre of dedicated teachers led by principals who recognise that the welfare of their respective schools are of paramount importance. That having been said, much has changed over the years with the quest for intellectual stimulation reaching an all-time high, fuelled by significant advances in the field of information technology. We have moved from the age of the computer to the era of mass instantaneous communication that has resulted in the further shrinking of our global village. We are literally a world comprised of billions of people who are able to keep in contact literally by the touch of a button. But living in a time when technology is a major driver for and indicator of national development, emphasis still must be placed on the importance of the school curriculum, especially as it relates to the holistic development of students. And that remains the challenge-ensuring that the curriculum is relevant and current and specifically addresses the goals and aspirations of our nation. The curriculum must not run second on a race course that is being led by bombardment of foreign material that is not in the best interest of our youth.
The Minister of Education, Dr Tim Gopeesingh, indicated recently that the current primary school curriculum is too academic and that his ministry has undertaken to introduce a more universal style of education. The last review of the curriculum was conducted almost 13 years ago and that alone suggests, in light of all the change that this new century has brought, that there is a need for immediate update.
In principle there can be no argument against the minister's observation, for as an outstanding academic who has also proven himself quite capable on the cricket field, Dr Gopeesingh realises the need for a holistic education. The real issue is the implementation of a syllabus that will reflect a healthy balance of both academic and non-academic subjects without compromising the course of study that must be completed for successful entry at the secondary school level.
When dealing with a matter as important as the education of our youth, there must be extensive consultation with critical stakeholders. It is not advisable, however noble the intention and great the purpose, to impose change without comprehensive analysis, meaningful input and opportunity for discussion. Therefore when the suggestion was made that co-curricular and extra-curricular activities should occur after school hours and on weekends, an understandable objection was raised by those who appreciated that the facilitators of such activities and programmes, mainly teachers already in the system, would be called upon to make further sacrifices that would impact on their personal time set aside for family and other commitments. Thankfully, the controversy was not allowed to get out of control and good sense has prevailed with the minister agreeing to meet with stakeholders to discuss the restructuring of the system to enable the activities to be conducted during school hours without causing undue distraction or disruption.
The concept of mentorship is being promoted worldwide as a means of ensuring that succession planning does not operate in a vacuum. I dare to state as an aside that only in the realm of local politics might it be difficult to find a mentor extolling the virtues of integrity, honesty, patriotism, truth and wisdom. But, back on topic, the fact is that many teachers are themselves mentors for hundreds who have passed through their hands as former students. The suggestion that schools be made part of a workable mentorship programme has been tried and proven successful and if interested, the minister could easily have his team conduct research to determine the programme which was created and used by a teacher in the southland to link two schools, one a secondary school in San Fernando and the other a primary school in Moruga, in a sibling type relationship in which there was a sought of adoption of the latter school by the other institution acting as a "big sister." Obviously there is no need to reinvent the wheel when people who have piloted such projects are still alive and anxious to give service. And we are so lucky to have such outstanding individuals willing to impart knowledge that it is a shame that nothing is done to encourage them to be part of the programme of enhanced education.
Arts and music
While conducting my television programme last night, a caller indicated that more has to be done to encourage children to play at least one instrument and the teaching of music ought to be an integral part of the school curriculum. Reference was made to a former minister in the 50s and 60s who believed that children should be given an instrument and taught to play and master it. The caller's view is that an appreciation of music and the arts is integral if we are to deal with vio- lence and delinquency in schools. I agree wholeheartedly for her point is like music to my ears. I continue to advocate that teaching students to play the national instrument, which should include imparting knowledge about its invention, should be mandatory on the school syllabus. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that under the stewardship of Dr Anna Mahase and with the musical talent of her sister Lenore, St Augustine Girls High School was the first school to have a steel orchestra. I am aware that other schools have for the longest time included in their curriculum non-academic subjects and extra-curricular activities and, fortunately, I attended schools that promoted the holistic development of students. I take this opportunity to thank all the teachers who guided me along the right path and to teachers generally who take the time to go the extra mile to ensure that their students are successful in their particular areas of talent. During this time of intense reflection for the Christian community, I wish everyone a safe and Holy Easter.