By Klysha Best
Fr Gregory Augustine CSSp, Chairman of the Holy Ghost Fathers’ Board of Management, which manages St Mary’s College and Fatima College, says the recent uproar over student hairstyles was simply a “storm in a teacup”.
Furthermore, he felt there was no need for the Ministry of Education (MoE) to release a National School Hair Code, because as he sees it, there are bigger issues to be dealt with.
On July 6, the MoE issued a release, notifying the public that a National School Hair Code was established for all schools throughout the country.
This followed the controversy over the hairstyles of a group of male students at the Trinity College, Moka, graduation ceremony.
In a statement, the Ministry said this new Code will provide broad guidelines for principals in the development of individual hair rules.
The Code will take effect for the coming academic year 2023/24 and it will allow, for instance: locs, twists, plaits, afros, cornrows.
The Ministry said individual schools are mandated to form a committee, composed of representatives of pupils, staff and parents, to determine their school hair rules.
Speaking on the second episode of Altos, The Catholic News’ television news programme on Trinity TV on July 14, Fr Augustine said he was saddened by the entire situation and thinks it is “misplaced emphasis.”
“The issue of hair is a foundational one and there are far more important, far more pressing issues.”
But as the host of Altos, Neil Parsanlal asked: “Does it matter what is on people’s heads as opposed to what is IN their heads?” Fr Augustine said it is important to an extent.
“Schools have always had policies on how you must look, how you deport yourself and more than ever this is important. We don’t see this as peripheral or secondary at all, it is central to education.” But, he maintained, “there are higher order issues”.
When posed with the question on whether he believed the hair fiasco was an issue of race and a target on young Afro-Trinidadians, the retired Fatima College Principal did not think so.
“I am an Afro-Trinidadian. I love my people, I love myself and therefore not at all, this is not targeting anybody. This is inspiring people to be the best they can be, inspiring young people to be.”
Fr Augustine said this also goes into the realm of “the identity politics and it is a slippery slope.”
“I pray God that the (Education) Minister has some opportunity to rethink, re-evaluate and engage in a little more serious discussion with the people involved in education, because it is this (hair code) today and then something else tomorrow.” Fr Augustine added: “This doesn’t augur well for the development of education.”
To cement his point about this situation being misplaced emphasis, he recalled passing in front of a school, only to be horrified at the overgrown yard, saying that it looked like it had not been occupied in a year. However, he said, schools only recently closed for vacation. “And here we are, carrying on about hair and extensions and whether it should be blue or black or green…it is a misplaced emphasis.”
On issuing a Code, then calling on schools to set up committees on said Code, Fr Augustine commented: “The policy was stated, and I don’t understand why then, there must be a committee of parents, of students, teachers and so on, to discuss what has already been stated. We don’t have that time.”
“We [the Holy Ghost Fathers] have been at it [education] for the past 160 years. But there are far higher issues to discuss, to mull over, to have our committees, than to be arguing about hair.”
Altos can be viewed Fridays at 8 p.m. on Trinity TV.