Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Dispelling the ghosts of yesteryear

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Title: Inequality, Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago

Author: Professor Ramesh Deosaran

Publisher: Ian Randle Publishers

In this voluminous treatise, Professor Emeritus Ramesh Deosaran removes the proverbial gloves and dares to speak the unspoken. With deliberation, he peels off the social Band-Aid that masks a festering wound that threatens the viability and survivability of a nation state. Crime, education, and race embody the sore state of affairs in Trinidad and Tobago, according to Deosaran. It's a pronouncement that deserves our fullest attention.

Deosaran is analytical and incisive. He invokes history and quotes intellectual giants such as C.L.R James and Franz Fanon. Surely, they understood the overarching reach of colonialism.

We are invited to reflect on our socially chaotic situation and there emerges the disturbing realisation that the vestiges of the plantation system are ever present. It is an albatross, a pestering spirit that needs to be exorcised.

Indeed, race is still the Achilles' heel of Trinidad and Tobago. This was exposed during the 2015 general election. The vile, racist accusations and name-calling are worth exploring. Deosaran cites Dr Dylan Kerrigan, who noted that, "Such racist things through social media are basically a manifestation of deeper philosophical and historical problems that are embedded in our society."

That there is a visceral distrust between the two largest racial groups is hardly debatable. Pathological attacks against each other threaten the national ethos. Writes columnist Tony Fraser, "Large groups of people now look on Indo-Trinidadians as being distrustful, money-grabbing, and corrupt because of the alleged kickback deal made by the [past] government with contractors." In truth, just about every hue in this diverse society has defended itself against scurrilous charges.

Deosaran fastidiously traces the roots of this social fracture, and predictably, they lead to the sins of slavery and indentureship. Notable were the Indians' resistance to cultural domination. Parents were unwilling to surrender their traditions for an education system they viewed as an existential threat. The Presbyterian Mission (1868-1900) collided with a Hindu-Moslem alliance that sought to preserve their culture through their own educational institutes. Deosaran calls this "cultural resistance at its peak". To what extent this tenacity is contributory to East Indian educational advancement invites additional study.

While Deosaran still sees a society driven by the pathological ghosts of the past, he injects globalisation and a capitalist-driven education system as the new phantasmagoria. The education system has become the principal agent of social inequity. He writes, "Until the society becomes 'socialist', what else do working class youth do if they do not compete in such 'middle-class culture' schools? Not all schools are 'middle class'. Public schools in urban areas, for example, have been criticised for its low academic attainment and depressed socio-economic mobility."

 

SAME ADVANTAGE

 

Ironically, education is viewed as catalytic, an instrument to level the playing field. "We are working very hard to include children from all circumstances in the safety net. This equity in education from an early age also means that all students start off with the same advantage," said former prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Her predecessors have echoed like sentiments.

Government programmes, such as, the Government Assistance for Tuition Expense, and Financial Assistance Studies Programmes, have all but carried students to the well of knowledge and training. Yet, inequity persists.

Deosaran grapples with the dynamics that undermine an equitable society.

He shares a perspicacious assessment made by sociologist Nasser Mustapha: "The impact of education cannot be ascertained by the number of schools ... the availability of school places,nor in terms of examination passes and grades. Some indication of the impact may be obtained by looking at the predicament of school-leavers."

Later, we read a highly revelatory comment on education and the black youth by Noble Phillip: "We have created a permanent underclass that is fodder for the devious. These persons cannot get a job, even if they stay in school and get their passes, since their home addresses and their skin colour are wrong." The implications are harrowing.

Professor Theodore Lewis adds to this troubling narrative: "A black boy of nine, ten, 11, 12 wants to be taught. You can't tell me a black boy of these ages wants to be a gunman and nothing else. The primary school has become, in this country, a site of divisiveness where self-fulfilling prophecy abound. There are people in this country who are perfectly happy with the state of affairs. They like it so."

This reflects a systemic problem that is wilfully ignored.

 

SOCIAL ORDER

 

For sure, the cards are stacked against the underclass, and an education system, purportedly the agent of social change, only serves to preserve and perpetuate a highly stratified social order.

Deosaran concludes that elitism and inequity begin at the primary school system and "under the banner of meritocracy, the education system is allowed to cultivate ethnic and social class segregation." Socio-economic gaps, social class, ethnicity, district disadvantages, and parental background are factors that perpetuate inequity in education.

His counsel demands scrutiny. "Any attempt to transform the education system," he writes, "will also have to change certain values about education itself, and in particular, the value attached to grammar-type education and the traditional professions over technical and vocational training." He adds, "The extent to which this change occurs, to that extent would the society become decolonised. Economic diversification would help reduce some of the elitism of colonialism."

Deosaran balks at radical, anti-establishment theories to effect change. Instead, he advocates for social equity that is achievable through "the application of remedial interventions to lift up the disadvantaged into a proportion that is fair and reasonable to their efforts". Equity, he explains, "is a matter of effort, proportionality and fairness", and argues that "for purposes of fairness and transparency, equality of educational opportunity and education equity must be governed by appropriate measurement and effective policy response".

Inequality, Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago is biblical in scope and an essential read for educators, administrators, policy-makers, parents, and students. It offers a trove of practical solutions to combat the new face of plantocracy where new actors assume the roles of the old guard. Wittingly and unwittingly, they uphold the prejudices of yesteryear under the guise of social equanimity. Deosaran dutifully removes the mask, and what we see is utterly unnerving.

Rating: Essential

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