June 2017

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When The UWI St. Augustine officially opened its classrooms to students in 1960, it was in an environment teeming with the sound and fury of independence and freedom from colonialism. The Federation attempt failed soon enough, but the region was focused on taking its affairs into its own hands. UWI students dutifully attended classes, mindful that there was a great challenge ahead – that of governing and building a Caribbean that represented Caribbean people and their ideals. This was a slightly different agenda from that of their predecessors, students from 1921 onwards of the WIAC, ICTA and the UCWI, who were our pioneers in forging a Caribbean culture of learning.

An appropriate conversation with university graduates of the sixties would likely reveal a level of civic consciousness that is not so apparent in recent generations. Something happened to change that. This may just be the perception of an older generation. However, if there is substance in the perception, perhaps it is the legacy of an oil-abundant economy, or the result of a drastically increased accessibility afforded by GATE, or the impact of an education system that many claim is not adequately attuned to our developmental needs. Whatever the cause, a university education seems to have become devalued. Students are, for the most part, of the expectation that academic certification provides automatic access to a rewarding career, and the idea of giving back has retreated from their consciousness. Perhaps this is simply one of the symptoms of the feeling of entitlement that dogs our society, thus robbing it of its productivity potential, or of the individualism that has characterized this century.

Of course, this issue has a global context. A 2013 article in the online publication theguardian.com, responded to a poll that clearly showed a similar shift in the thinking of UK youth. It noted that, “A rising generation that finds college expensive, work hard to come by and buying a home an impossible dream is responding to its plight, not by imagining any collective fightback, but by plotting individual escape.”

Caribbean survival in the stark reality of our regional circumstance demands much more of our students today than ever before. Even as we grapple with the economic, societal and ecological challenges across the region, many of our graduates are facing hitherto unseen levels of underemployment, even in the high-demand professions such as medicine and law. Graduates of the various programmes at the St. Augustine Campus will leave its nurturing grounds to enter a fiercely competitive world, one that is much more responsive to global changes, and one in which there are no guarantees.

However, the blame cannot be laid at the feet of our youth for, in no uncertain way, this is the legacy that we have left them. In many ways, we have failed to do our best to live up to the post-independence promises that saw societal growth and development for much longer than the short sixty years or so of our sovereign existence. We have bequeathed to them the unfortunate task, one they must now accept as their responsibility, of understanding our failures and rebuilding Caribbean societies so that their descendants have a better chance for survival and growth.

At The UWI, we have taken on the challenge of utilising our resources to help younger generations learn how to survive in the new dynamically changing world. Indeed, the vision that we have formulated, underscores the view that survival is by far the most important objective for any education system. We believe that it is of the utmost importance that our citizens must be educated and trained to meet and beat every challenge that nature or humankind throws their way.

We see basic survival as a must for all. This is all the more significant given the potentially disastrous effects of climate change or the increasing earthquake activities on our extremely vulnerable island states. Not many of the populace have the wherewithal to survive if cut off from the mainstream that provides the societal networking and the life-supporting supply of resources.

We also see the need to expand the current education-for-jobs paradigm to one that nurtures creativity and innovation and equips citizens for survival in current and future societies. This will also create the best possible potential for that survival. In this regard, our national and regional education systems should target the creation of a robust culture of innovation that endows citizens with the ability to spot and exploit commercial opportunities and to derive novel, ingenious and workable solutions to our economic, societal and ecological challenges. On its own, this is an enduring legacy that we should bequeath to future citizens, a legacy that completely obliterates the debilitating cultural impact of slavery and indentureship. However, it is the manifestation of this new-found characteristic that will determine the ultimate survival and growth of our region as a whole.

At this juncture, we could only imagine what the region would be like when populated by citizens who are confident in themselves and their ability to treat with life’s challenges. In the face of natural disasters or almost apocalyptic societal collapse, those citizens would be very capable of living off the land as individuals or small groups or, as situations dictate, to build and maintain resilient communities that, over time, would recover and grow into well-established societies. Whatever the circumstances, they would understand and respect the ecology and be effectively resourceful in protecting it. In the best of times, they would have crafted a society that is virtually free of the current ills, such as crime and discrimination of all sorts. Economic prosperity, assuming an economic system of the sort that exists at present, would be buoyed by a robust structure that is supported by an extremely healthy network of innovation-driven, export-oriented small and medium enterprises. We would have achieved a sustainable existence.

This futurescape that includes a buoyant self-sustaining economy leads me to conclude with a mention of Dr. Anthony Sabga, whose memorial service was held on June 3. In many ways, Dr. Sabga represented the kind of citizen we would like to build. Significantly, just think of the innate qualities that would give a young man the confidence to leave his ancestral home half a world away, take up residence in a foreign land and start a business from scratch. Think of the vision and drive that empowered him to move that business from vending clothes on a house-to-house basis and ultimately leading it all the way to the success we know as ANSA McAL today. This is the kind of drive, determination, know-how and confidence that we need in our young people. We need, in Trinidad and Tobago alone, by my very informal estimate, 10 to 20 thousand export earning SMEs – a virtual swarm – driven by the likes of Dr. Sabga.

What a legacy that would be!


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications: Dr. Dawn-Marie De Four-Gill
Editor : Vaneisa Baksh

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