When in 1976, Dr Eric Williams led our republic towards a parliamentary democracy and set this country ablaze on a mission, steeped in the belief that this nation’s children carry the future of Trinidad and Tobago in their schoolbags, did we place so much value on the mission of education that we amplified the weight of the bookbag?
Fast forward to 2019, when the Ministry of Education (MOE), in collaboration with several stakeholders conducted an investigation into the weight of schoolbags in primary and secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago leading its Chief Education Officer to conclude that many students, especially at the primary level, were carrying bags above the recommended threshold of 15 per cent of their bodyweight.
Among the key findings of this recent investigation was that most students, at both primary and secondary levels, carried their schoolbags incorrectly and experienced pain or discomfort.
Despite the increased weight of the nation’s school bags, we seem to have forgotten to pack in those bookbags, the vision which ought to have led the children—that vision which should have inspired the goals towards which they perspire.
A vision is not a dream. It is a reality that has simply not yet come into existence. When the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago saw our country as it actually was then, he became convinced that his vision would provide the framework to drive the mission.
A scholar and historian, Dr Williams felt that one mission was to make education relevant to our development. “To educate is to emancipate,” he famously said, and he set about educating and empowering citizens, equipping them with the tools to build and invent what did not then exist.
Forty-three years later, we are living that more productive future Eric Williams envisioned in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which is today part of a VUCA world— a world that, according to Leadership Conference presenter Chris Lowney is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
Yet despite these changed circumstances, what vision do we hold for the future of Trinidad and Tobago? What mission must we undertake today to meet our collective desires for this nation tomorrow?
The first step in creating a vision is honestly evaluating our current reality whilst remaining focused on the potential we can create. This current reality reveals that we are often governed by self-centeredness, a contributor to excess crime and corruption, increasing individualism and inequality, advancing poverty for many and addiction to power for several.
Meanwhile, Trinbagonians, like the rest of the global village have become seemingly obsessed with materialism and the privileged few continue to flaunt their elitism.
Yet what remains our vision? Have we completely relinquished it? “Where there is no vision, the people get out of hand” (Prov 29:18).
Today, in our VUCA world, co-responsibility amongst ethnic groups, religious affiliations and political parties should be undertaken in the creation of a new vision. This must neither be the sole responsibility of those in authority nor can it simply be handed down, to be devoured by the national community.
Instead, forged from our love of liberty, in the fires of hope and prayer, this vision must be palatable, a collective desire that is shared, communicated to all—packed daily in the bookbags of the nation’s children.
It must not be too heavy to carry, and must, of necessity, be carried correctly. Clearly understood and well-articulated, this vision must provide the framework through which a new mission can be defined.