The Redemption of Paul
January 19, 2021
St Joseph, the man for our time
January 19, 2021

Education as a human right

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind”  (UNESCO)

Today, January 24,  is the third International Day of Education. It will be marked on Monday, January 25. The theme this year is: Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.

UNESCO states: “Today, 258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school. Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable.”

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has “led to a global learning disruption of unprecedented scale and severity. The closure of schools, universities and other learning institutions, as well as the interruption of many literacy and lifelong learning programmes, has affected the lives of 1.6 billion students in over 190 countries” (UNESCO).

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, produced a policy brief on education and COVID- 19, in which he warned that “the pandemic has amplified social, economic and digital inequalities, putting a generation at risk of a learning catastrophe”. But, as UNESCO states, “it has also shone light on the centrality of education for every society, as a public common good and the bedrock of social cohesion, well-being, and opportunity…the pandemic has been a wake-up call—to make education systems more resilient to crisis, and more inclusive, flexible and sustainable”.

Like many countries, T&T is still not able to open all schools fully and many students are missing out on remote education as they don’t have electronic devices.

In April 2020, we were told that about 65,000 students needed such devices. On January 3, 2021, the day before SEA and CSEC students returned to school and other students got ready for virtual learning, the Education Ministry stated that 30,000 students still did not have access to electronic devices.

Thanks to the generosity of those who responded to the government’s adopt-a -school initiative, 21,000 devices have been pledged, of which 10,000 have been delivered. The Government has begun the procurement process to purchase 20,000 laptops. This will still leave a shortfall.

It is clear that the lack of access to such  devices will adversely impact attempts to level the playing field and create a culture in which equity and equality can become a reality.

Education during the pandemic is posing challenges for parents, teachers, students, and the wider community.

Humans are inherently social beings. As the writer  Kayt Sukel says, we are “hard-wired for social relationships”. In light of this fact, it is little wonder that so many students in various parts of the world, including T&T, are feeling anxious, depressed, missing the interaction with others. And there are instances of some students experiencing mental health issues.

Do we have sufficient resources to assist those students who may need access to counselling/mental health services—online or face-to-face?

UNESCO recommends that countries “give voice to the COVID-19 generation to express their concerns and aspirations in the face of a future marked by an economic recession and climate change”.

In September 2020, The Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE)  at the Vatican published a circular letter addressed to Catholic schools, universities and educational institutions around the world.

The CCE emphasised “the principle of the ‘relationship of exchange’ between real people”. CCE also highlighted the drawbacks of distance learning and reaffirmed that “the direct and interpersonal relationship of exchange and dialogue between teachers and students” is “indispensable for the learning process”.

While commending teachers and educators for their invaluable contribution under the pandemic, the CCE “urged support for them. They need a solid continuing education on how to meet the needs of the times, without sacrificing the synthesis between faith, culture and life, which is the keystone of the educational mission implemented in Catholic schools and universities.”

As Chair of the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR), it would be remiss of me if I did not mention the educational needs of the 2,000 plus Venezuelan children of school age, whose parents registered during the amnesty in May-June 2019, and who, together with their parents/guardians are patiently waiting for the Minister of National Security to grant permission for them to enter Catholic schools/access online learning.

Integral human development is inclusive. Let’s provide learning opportunities for all.


I take this opportunity to wish Happy 70th Anniversary to my alma mater, Holy Faith Convent, Couva. May the Lord continue to guide Sr Theresa Vialva HF and her staff who give yeoman service at HFC.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy were at the heart of charity as practised by the early Church. The first generation of Christians shared what they had, so that no one among them would be in need (cf. Acts 4:34–35). (5)

Pope Francis, World Day of Peace 2021

CCSJ Social Justice, Education Committee