Our first PM, Dr Eric Williams unequivocally told his young country that the key out of a brutal colonial past towards soaring prosperity and healing was in our children's schoolbags; hence free education, free school lunches, technical schools for the non-academic, UWI scholarships.
How Williams must have rolled in his grave when, last year, a stray bullet was fired from a gun by men involved in gang warfare grazed a wall in a classroom.
Too much oil and cash before we developed tools to govern ourselves led to voracious greed from the top, an inability to live without noise (guns, drugs, fetes, electronics) diverted us. In 2020 thousands of children and adults are functionally illiterate, 25,000 men belong to 250 gangs in POS alone.
Increasingly government schools are turning into a microcosm of shattered communities controlled by gang leaders who ushered in another murderous year by spraying rounds from ubiquitous machine guns, careless of their own lives and that of the people they kill.
The following is a first-person account of a teacher who fears for her life at the school where she teaches, which resembles a war zone rather than a workplace:
"The violence towards teachers in this school started last October after a student pushed the teacher against the wall and hit him. The student was suspended, not expelled. There were no consequences. This lack of consequences opened the floodgates to gang warfare within school walls.
"Gang members in the area began throwing marijuana, knives, alcohol over the ten-foot wall for students. A man ran in, barebacked and attacked a young boy on the school compound. A student was found with a litre of gasoline in his bag. Student witnesses are threatened and assaulted and shut up.
"They began throwing missiles at teachers, drenching us with bottles of urine and water, walking around the school in circles with weapons and illegal drugs, vandalising teachers' cars, vandalising the staffroom.
"They drew gang graffiti over the school walls, desks, staffroom, "Rasta City," "Kill a Regular Rasta (KRR)," "Muslims". There are frequent skirmishes between students belonging to the gangs because this person is Muslim, we from town and they are from Y or C Trace.
"The students who terrorise us like this make up only five per cent of the school, but they poison everyone, with fear, and paralyse learning.
"Since October we have formally made 60 reports about negative disrespectful behaviour to social workers and student support service. Nothing was done. Child laws prevent the police from dealing with them.
"The young offenders/criminals are dealing with poverty, neglect, living in impoverished conditions, without a proper uniform or shoes; children who have matters in family court, abusive fathers and stepfathers; academically challenged students who start secondary school with 30 per cent marks in common entrance. Their parents can't help because they are working, tired and without job security. If they take repeated leave to deal with their children, they can get fired. Some don't care. They are trying to survive.
"Teachers are expected to shoulder it all and teach these damaged children all the subjects of the curriculum when they can barely function.
"The Junior Education Minister visited my school and assured teachers that the ministry would build a guard booth, raise the school walls, increase security, upgrade the school from junior sec facilities to the five-year school (which it is now) with a lab and computers, fix the roof, and wall, deal with the snake and rat infestation, but nothing was done. Funding was cut.
"Everyone who has a school-going child expects their child to come home after 2.30, safe. If the child is harmed, the first question asked is where the teacher was. The ministry must bring in social workers to deal with children posing a threat to everybody's security and safety, including their own. As a country, we need to stand with teachers taking care of the nation's children.
"All teachers are asking for is a safe working environment. Everything that goes wrong with the children is an echo of what is wrong with the country. Schools are a microcosm of our country which is currently held hostage by crime and guns. If you fix the schools, you fix the country. We are appealing to the powers that be to do what is right by students and teachers."
A T&T teacher's plight and plea as told to Ira Mathur.