BitDepth 813 - December 20

Teachers and relevant, engaging teaching hold the key to the capacity of this country's human resource in a challenging future.
Teachers first
A revolution must begin here. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The first half of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book, That used to be us, explains the need to putting education first on the agenda and acknowledging the supremacy of the teacher in national development. 
Arguing that the future is sown in classrooms, creating an environment that encourages inventiveness, skill and creative adaptation in schools is, they suggest, the most important investment that any country can make.

I’m sure that they are absolutely right. Cirriculm requirements do not create brilliant scholars, creators and engineers, great teachers do and you only have to ask any sector leader to find that out. Behind every truly bright person is, inevitably, a teacher who excited, engaged and encouraged them to achieve.

Charlene Ogle, Hugh Spicer and Archie Edwards changed my life at Trinity College. Ogle and Spicer nurtured my love of words, and Edwards gave me a single sentence of advice that I never hesitate to share, “You’re not at school to learn, you’re here to learn how to learn.”

Conversely, we must admit, as a people, that the word gunta really describes a kind of chronic, essential failure of communities, our education system and our family support systems. What, apart from the admittedly attractive lure of fast money, might otherwise drive the groundswell surge in marginalised youth willing to become gang members beyond a lack of alternatives?

It’s not as if most of these young people don’t know it’s a fast, dangerous and deadly choice of career. Over the last three years, I met and befriended a known community leader a few days at a time at an annual event. For most of that time, I didn’t know that he was suspected of drug running, murder and all kinds of violence, but I did realise quite quickly he was a smart young man who didn’t know how to function in what we like to think of as polite society.

He wouldn’t eat in the hotel’s restaurant because he didn’t know how to use a knife and fork. He found much of what I had to say hilarious because he had a natural appreciation for dry humour and sarcasm even if he didn’t quite know it by that name. 
I’d often walk right past him at the rowdy event without seeing him. He’d be standing back pressed against the wall, eyes flitting quickly around, constantly observing and evaluating. A few weeks ago, he was shot dead.

Any serious education system in 2011 must acknowledge that there will only be two kinds of jobs eventually. Jobs that can’t efficiently or profitably be done by machines, requiring minimal human judgement and jobs that demand fully aware, creative human interaction. Everything else will be done by a mechanised or computerised system.

Engineering a 21st century education system means acknowledging that there are thinkers, entrepreneurs and creators embedded in all the children in our schools and the right education coaches and education paths must be available to offer these unique minds a chance to blossom into valuable contributors.

Steve Mariotti’s Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship ( is one example of the kind of initiative that brings at risk children back to active social participation.
Trinidad and Tobago must actively craft systems that nurture the creative talent we’ve long demonstrated and dangerously taken for granted if we are to respect the geniuses who provided the foundation of our arts legacy. Art is notoriously difficult to measure, so it’s a challenge to program into education systems, but for this country, this extra effort is critical.

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