Mohit, Webster-Roy clash in education debate

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy. –

MEMBER of Parliament for Tobago East Ayanna Webster-Roy defended the TT education system in a sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday.

Webster-Roy clashed with opposition MP for Chaguanas East Vandana Mohit who led the Opposition on Friday in its attempt to pass a private motion condemning what it described as the Government’s mismanagement of the education system.

Mohit led off the debate on Friday, submitting that quality education should be afforded to all in TT, but was not.

Armed with articles from newspapers from as far back as 2016, Mohit said several issues such as functional illiteracy, high-school dropouts, underachievement by boys in schools, the relevance of the school curriculum and education for diverse or special learners were systematic issues that have not yet been dealt with by the current government. She added that poor school infrastructure and the lack of provision of education for special needs students were also issues that the Government had failed to address.

“These issue are a stark reflection of the Government’s negligence in maintaining a conducive learning environment for our students,” she said.

“Members who spoke before on this motion would have spoken on an all-of-government approach. An all-of-government approach would have meant that you would have little to none of these problems – of crumbling walls, leaking roofs, inadequate facilities facing our student population.”

“An all-of-government approach would mean that you would have an actual school to attend on a daily basis, not a community centre.”

“How can we as representatives or as the government expect our youth to thrive and excel when they are forced to endure such substandard conditions?”

She referred to a joint select committee (JSC) meeting on social services which said teachers at early education schools had cited an increase in children with psycho-educational and development challenges.

The report said the Ministry of Education faced an overall deficiency in screening and evaluating students with learning challenges. The deficiency was caused by staff shortages.

Mohit also brought up the SEA results, pointing to a Ministry of Education statement which indicated a marginally lower pass rate.

She highlighted that this year, the percentage of students scoring 30 per cent or below was 14.39 per cent compared to 13.55 per cent in 2023. The percentage of students scoring above 90 per cent in 2024 was 1.2 per cent as compared to 2.11 per cent in 2023.

“The ministry really needs to assess and say whether the programmes they have put in place are working properly because the results of the SEA 2024 are indicating that they are not,” she said.

In response, Webster-Roy said Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly, in her response to the motion, laid out how the government was working to ensure children with special needs were included in the classroom setting.

“Instead of having separate spaces, we are looking at integration and inclusion,” Webster-Roy said. “Studies have shown that inclusion as well as integration benefits not only special needs children but all the children in the classroom.”

She responded to the Mohit’s assertion that there were no technical/vocational programmes, saying Government was using the whole-of-government approach specifically with technical/vocational education.

“If the member would actually look at what is being done by the Government, she would recognise the number of training programmes that the member would have identified are currently being rolled out by a number of different agencies,” Webster-Roy said.

She referenced the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service and programmes through that ministry for training toward alternative industries such as oil and gas, renewables and artificial intelligence.

“We have Fuse, which is the introductory linesman training programme. We have the aquaculture and co-operatives training programme. We have the Civilian Conservation Corps. We have the alternative learning and life-skill-enhancement training programme,” she said.

“Through the Ministry of Sport and Youth Development there are a number of training initiatives made available for young people in TT. So, the opportunities are there. They may not be coming through the Ministry of Education but as cohesive, integrated, well-oiled machinery that is being led by the Prime Minister, we have ensured that opportunities for training are made available across government.”

She said the Government would continue to build on the work it had already started, to ensure that children continued to inherit better education systems year-on-year.

The two still found time for picong, with both members admonishing the other’s party for being involved in outbreaks of violence in schools.

Mohit in her presentation took the Government to task, bringing up a fracas at a PNM Moruga-Tableland constituency meeting at the Fifth Company Baptist School hall on Thursday.

“What can you really expect in terms of meaningful changes when you have reports in the newspaper today of a school in Moruga where a PNM party group fought in a school? What can you expect when you have a party group chairman saying it was ‘plenty lash’ and ‘big bacchanal? You know which school? Fifth Company Baptist School.”

After being cautioned by Speaker Brigid Annisette-George, Mohit added, “I think that school needs a peace pole.”

Webster-Roy lashed back, saying people in glass houses should not throw stones. She immediately turned to another newspaper article from June 16, where a UNC councillor was assaulted in Penal.

“’Councillor (name called) shows a burst lip after he was attacked at a Penal Government School during voting for the UNC internal elections…” she said reading from the newspaper article.

She said the violent clash between two supporters of opposing slates during the Opposition’s internal election left one man “bleeding and bruised.”

“This is a very serious motion and you opened the door for it to become a mockery,” she told Mohit.