With the national budget in the air, conversations across Trinidad and Tobago have largely shifted back to economic diversification. The Minister of Finance is set to deliver the budget on Monday, and it will of course be subject to the usual speculation, and positive, as well as negative feedback on its contents. From a Tobago perspective, development is probably the major economic concern, as the island has in the last six months ramped up efforts to enhance the tourism sector, the agriculture industry, the health sector, much-needed infrastructure, as well as education.
In fact, education is the common thread of all these various industries; it opens the door, not only to jobs, but new possibilities for revenue. Growth in every industry is contingent on having technically skilled personnel and the right materials to fulfil their potential in crucial areas. This is the thought process behind a number of changes currently taking place in the education system. Remedial support is set to come on stream in primary schools to strengthen the literacy and numeracy capability of many of the island’s students. This also comes on the heels of the post-Secondary Entrance Assessment Enhancement Programme, which provided many students who struggled with the exam has a chance to boost the basic skills they’ll need to rely on in secondary school.
The work of Tobago’s teachers will also be supported by specialised instructional coaches, who will help find gaps in learning from both the student and teacher perspectives. This will increase the quality of the education the students receive, and impact results at national exams in the mid to long term.
Along with the new Teachers Development Centre planned by the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy (DEIE), and training for principals and other school administrators in areas like leadership and financial management, this initiative will help to offset institutional challenges that have impacted the development of our human capital in the past.
Particular industries have been targeted to benefit from education initiatives. The Kendal Farm School is offering courses that go beyond the benefit of the aspiring farmer or large scale farm owner. Any Tobagonian can learn about herb cultivation, for example, and value chain activities that can be monetised with relatively little overhead. Technical vocational students can earn diplomas through the MIC Institute of technology. And in July, Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles announced that “tech voc” educators will also have additional training to ensure students in these areas get a quality education.
The tourism industry is also critical to the island. The Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (THTI) is being re-energised to ensure that it can support the further development of the sector. It is now under the purview of the Education Division, and the possibilities for partnerships with U.S. universities is being explored. This has the potential to enhance the quality and the range of the education offered at the institution, again with implications for the growth of the sector.
Education is about creating opportunity. It ensures people can function in society, from doing basic things such as checking their bank accounts to accessing public services. It also ensures that the requisite skill sets are available to connect vision and opportunity, so that the island can realise its development potential. Tobagonians must ensure they can seize these unprecedented opportunities for education by becoming qualified and certified. In the end, human capability is the driver of development, and the starting point of stability.