There are paradigms which are simply too hard to uproot. Ingrained archetypes skewing minds to clichés and not innovation.
Much had been said about race, crime, and education. In Hans Rosling book, “Factfulness—Why We’re Wrong about the world,” he demonstrated how people’s perceptions of the present are based on their learnings, and images in the media bombarding them every day. Rosling pointed out that policymakers often miss the mark in arriving at viable solutions for endemic problems of poverty, social inequity and crime because their decisions weren’t fact-based.
Say crime, and immediately Laventille and Beetham come to mind, but violent crime statistics show that it’s widespread although there’s a higher concentration in Port-of-Spain. The gang population is lethal, just under 1,500 among 138 gangs, and predominantly of African descent. Others are mostly mixed-race and Indian. About five per cent of the population is under 17 years. Gangs’ strongholds are shifting to Arima, Sangre Grande, and other locations along the east-west Corridor. Gang-related murders happen across the country, but there are hundreds of independent operators committing violent crimes.
Think of female-head households and one group with many children come to mind. But while African females account for 43 per cent of female-headed households, the Indian, Mixed-Race, and other ethnic groups account for the remaining 57 per cent. Most are stable households with children performing well at schools. One may wish to dispute the CSO, 2011census information, but it’s what exists, and like such surveys worldwide, there’s a small margin of error. Censuses are taken every ten years, and changes over that period are generally marginal unless there were deliberate interventions or dramatic developments to cause significant shifts.
Perhaps, the most significant contributor to crime is unemployment among the age group 15 to 49—averaging about 46 per cent of the unemployed, or approximately 21,000 people have no sustainable source of income. (Ministry of Finance Economic Review 2019).
Social programmes have targeted Laventille, Beetham, and other so-called hot spots. Public commentary had focused on solutions to the problems primarily in these areas after a spate of killings of and by predominantly African males. Much had been said about inequity in education, and the “education of black children” that had, alarmingly, and perhaps unintended, an undertone of separatism. Much had been said about the under-performance and conditions of government secondary schools and the inequity of the Secondary Examination Assessment (SEA), but most children of the two major ethnic groups attend these schools and pass that exam.
It is why fact-based decisions are essential in arriving at solutions to crime and social inequity; otherwise, the result is the misalignment of energies and billions of dollars with the real underlying problems. The education system shouldn’t be viewed in isolation of stubborn societal issues. Most children in secondary schools perform satisfactorily, the majority are well-behaved, focused and motivated, and it’s grossly unfair to negatively brand all of them and their parents because of the very few who are disruptive and those who drop out and commit crimes.
While the police service does its work to reduce homicides and violent crimes, other strategies could be employed to stem the flow of children and youth migrating to criminal operations, and to create jobs. That’s where collective thinking on education, health, and employment should get on the solution grid to address child abuse and developmental problems, bullying, violence among children and youth, domestic violence, and multi-dimensional poverty.
In principle, effective interventions should be transformative and not aid dependence or provide more opportunity to profile people and lower esteem. One of the world’s great tennis players and civil rights activist, the late Arthur Ashe, had recognised the nature of “stereotyping and teasing black children about the dubious glories of professional sports.” It will earn only a very few a livelihood
The Government had implemented numerous projects to develop skills among persons between the ages of 15 and 45 years. These included YTEPP, the Multi-Sector Skills Training Programme (MUST), the Citizen Security Programme designed for “high needs” youth. There are a host of social programmes including parent education, adolescent mothers’ centres, community centres, free health care, transportation, low-cost housing and every imaginable form of assistance for people needing it. At the higher end, are COSTAATT and UTT education institutions. Additionally, the government offer many incentives for agriculture, agribusiness, micro and small businesses. Still, crime seemed to have grown exponentially with all these efforts. Why?
Where are the gaps, and what are some solutions?
1) Graduates must find jobs to feed themselves and their families. 2) Illiteracy. People who can’t read and write can’t access programmes, far more get jobs. Stem school drop-outs. The SEA isn’t an indicator of learning ability or success. It’s as traumatizing as the Common Entrance had been. Many children feel a sense of failure when they don’t pass for their school of choice, or at all. That’s exactly what a committee of the late 90s that included Mr Anthony Garcia, now Minister of Education, had said about the Common Entrance— “a psychological catastrophe.” The SEA is another format of the Common Entrance. Many children are not engaged. 3) Interventions have focused primarily on the secondary and tertiary level stages of the problems, neglecting the crucial early stages of children’s lives. This isn’t to say there’s a void of early child care centres and programmes. There’s an urgent need for collaborative child development initiatives based on reliable data on children with developmental problems. Collaboration among parents, social workers, teachers, doctors, psychologists and other specialists is essential to solutions. There’s a need for certified specialist teachers. 4) Poor implementation and politicisation of programmes like CEPEP and gang infiltration. 5) A shameful lack of proper rehabilitative children’s institutions. 6) Parent education must cater to working mothers, some of whom do two or more jobs to make ends meet. Are programmes evaluated for the impact on values, and the quality of children’s lives? 7) Reproductive health and family planning education may not be reaching the target groups, and probably has little or no impact on teenage pregnancies. 8) Ignorance of the impact of an unhealthy physical environment on crime and the quality of life. The school environment would be enhanced with the orderly development of clean towns and cities. That calls into question the quality of local government.
The education system is in a colonial time warp. Teacher appointments, promotions, transfers, secondment and discipline rest with the anachronistic Teaching Service Commission (TSC). It had originated with the Personnel Branch of the Colonial Secretariat harking back 200 years ago in the early nineteen century. Are we serious? To abolish it is where common sense would clash with the dysfunctional political system. The composition of school boards should be examined to support the diffusion of authority while recognising the need for a new system that ensures timely decision-making and fairness.
The policymakers should weigh the pros and cons of co-ed schools, and the experience of the denominational and other high-performing schools. Co-ed has advantages of socialisation, diversity, equality, and preparing students for the real world. However, there are considerable disadvantages, including distraction, the different learning needs of boys and girls, issues of intimidation, embarrassment, confidence, and early sexual relationships.
Since the lack of positive male role models in many boys’ lives is considered a contributor to delinquency, why not recruit more male teachers, and increase the investment in teacher training and development. Get the Cadets and Scouts operating in all schools, if they aren’t already there. Introduce meditation, which should have a relaxing and calming effect on students. Review the curriculum to include sessions that sensitise students on the beauty of diversity, and nurture a positive sense of history and identity.
There should be a policy to implement STEM from the primary level.
Redefine technical education to blend project-based (robotics) and collaborative learning. Why not science and technology boot camps? Or, entrepreneurial camps where innovative products and viable community co-operatives are rewarded?
Perhaps, the critical issue is youth unemployment, which may well be on the increase. Innovative solutions are needed to sustain jobs for graduates coming into the labour force annually. Assuming all else had been fixed, if people can’t earn a living, some will resort to activities that hurt them and society.
The problems are not limited to any district or group and affect all of us. Nevertheless, Tony Fraser’s recommendations for “Human development behind ‘d’ Bridge,” to create a hub for human, social and economic development based on history, culture, sports, intellectual development and innovation,” is a model with potential to create entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. It could be replicated throughout the country. The ideas are endless if we put our minds together.