Education Minister: No education sector perfect

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly – File photo

EDUCATION Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly says there is no education sector in the world that is “perfect” though it’s a goal her ministry strives toward.

Gadsby-Dolly was responding to what she described as a “childish” motion piloted by Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes-Alleyne on private members day in Parliament on March 1.

The motion sought to condemn the Government for what Haynes-Alleyne said was its failures and mismanagement of the education system. It also sought to get the Government to immediately implement data-driven measures to “guarantee the successful future development of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The motion cited what it called the government’s failure to maintain school infrastructure, implement data-driven measures to make the delivery of special education more equitable and accessible to the citizenry, and optimise curriculum development to reflect the country’s labour needs.

Before tackling the issues raised head-on, Gadsby Dolly sought to explain that it was impossible to make a flawless education sector.

“There’s no education sector in the world that is perfect. Though we can stand here and describe nirvana, if it was so good, then the UNC had chances to lead the education, and it would have achieved perfection then. And I can assure you it did not achieve perfection then, because…perfection is something we would strive to. And we continue to strive as we work in the education sector.”

Tackling the claim that school infrastructure was not being properly managed, Gadsby-Dolly said if that were true, there would not be any schools currently operational in the country.

She added that on any given day there could be up to six schools experiencing issues owing to factors beyond the her ministry’s control – from torrential downpours that might flood and damage a sewer system, to electrical issues from T&TEC that could trip breakers and require an electrician.

“There’s no way you can simply just fix everything and today say every school is perfect for every student to attend. That’s not reality, member. And even though we would love that to be our circumstances, where is that really possible?”

She said schools would always need repair and, in some instances, the July/August vacation period might not be enough to complete them.

She said that was why repairs were often first assessed, giving attention to those that required more immediate fixes.

“Is that a failure? No member. You have to look at the broader picture of what’s happening. And the fact is, most of our schools are open every single day for the education continuity of our children. Those that cannot be opened? We continue to work on those.”

Rubbishing the claim that Government had failed in providing special-needs education, Gadsby-Dolly said during this academic year, 4,807 such students had been identified – 196 at ECCE, 4,052 at primary and 559 at secondary level.

She said the process was that in term one, special-needs students were identified and in term two, dedicated staff validated data sent by school principals to then design programmes and interventions for the students.

“We are dealing with humans. So there may be some cases where the process can work better. But that is the process and, yes, we have the data.”

She said there were 12 public special-needs schools available, and the ministry spent about $30 million for students to be accommodated in private special-needs schools.

Gadsby-Dolly said there were over 700 student aids in the public-school system, 300 from the ministry and around 400 hired through the On-the-Job Training Programme.

“Is the policy foolproof? Does that mean there are no people doing what they are not supposed to do? No. But there is a system in place and we are using the system.”

Contrary to the motion’s assertion, the minister said the Education Ministry optimised curriculum delivery to reflect the country’s labour needs.

“We have a national developmental needs list. The Ministry of Education is aware of it. It comes out of the Ministry of Planning but the Ministry of Education is very aware of it and we know what it says.”

Gadsby-Dolly said her ministry also monitored the fastest-growing trends globally which, at the time, showed careers in health and information technology (IT) to be at the helm.

She said in 2022, 20 per cent of national scholarships were in IT. Additionally, she said the ministry had been emphasising digital fluency which was being integrated into the education sector, such as e-testing and incorporating the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) results on an online portal.

She said the ministry was also making strides in elevating technical and vocational education.