July 2019

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This past June, almost 19,000 children from throughout Trinidad and Tobago received the results of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examinations to determine what secondary school they will attend. For many of them, ages 11 and 12, it was the first true trial of their young lives. The vast majority, I’m pleased to say, overcame the challenge. While they may not necessarily have made it to their first choice school, they endured the labours and stresses of study and exams, and made it through the process. For that I congratulate them all.

There are some however, who had a much more difficult time with the exams. “Ministry reports rise in SEA self-harm cases” a headline in the Trinidad Guardian said. The article states that the Ministry of Education received a 20 per cent in requests for help for students dealing with mental health issues because of SEA. It described instances of “self-harm, self-mutilation, and attempted suicide”. A Ministry spokesperson said the students were “unable to cope with what is going on.”

This is upsetting for obvious reasons. No one wants to see children suffering. But reading this article I was dismayed by the irony of a situation in which some of our children are being prepared for academics but not for life.

I say this not to minimise the challenge of sitting SEA or the valid concerns over the nature and purpose of secondary school entrance exams. Nor am I making a critique of parenting specifically. Preparing our children for life is society’s collective responsibility. And as a tertiary institution that serves thousands upon thousands of young people on the threshold of adulthood every year, we at The UWI see ourselves as having a duty to help them become fully formed citizens with the tools for material and emotional well-being, and a moral and empathic life.

We in the Caribbean have always valued education. And well we should. Academics are crucial for personal and national prosperity. But knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness, contentment or strength of character. From colonial days our educational systems did factor for what we might call “life skills” through sports, clubs, humanities studies and exercises of patriotism.

As we have developed, as we have prioritised speed, efficiency, convenience and comfort, we seem to be losing our grasp on the intrinsic needs of our people. Life, no matter how much progress we make, will always be hard. And though we live in a miraculous age of technology and information and interconnection to help us navigate this difficult world, the ultimate life tool will always be character. Discipline, perseverance, courage, integrity, empathy, mindfulness, a capacity for critical thought, creative daring and communal living - these are the assets of a truly effective person. And such people are enormous assets to whatever society they belong.
At The UWI, one of our core values is “Student Centredness”. Not just excellence in education but putting students first, the entirety of the student. And in this issue of UWI Today, we look at some of our student centred activities, beyond teaching and research, that support their development.

Our Division of Student Services and Development (DSSD) is the campus’ ultimate student resource. DSSD provides support services for mental health, financial aid, career counselling, accommodation, activities and many more. Two of their outstanding programmes - Adopt-a-Student and UWI’s First Year Experience (FYE) - are highlighted in this issue.

Likewise, this issue introduces Justin Subero, the new President of The UWI St Augustine Student’s Guild Council. Student government is a remarkable exercise for forging young leaders, an absolute necessity for well-being of our region. We need young people like Justin and his team who are capable and willing to take on the responsibility of leadership.

Jordan Reynos, Trinidad and Tobago national hockey player and UWI student, has shown a different kind of leadership. In May of this year he was awarded the prize for the 2019 UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Sportsman of the Year. In recent years, thanks in no small part to the vision of Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, UWI has reestablished its commitment to student sports. The most visible symbol of this is our Faculty of Sport, launched in 2017.

Apart from the career opportunities within the sport industry, and the development of our human resource of athletes and professionals, sport has inherent value in building invaluable traits such as teamwork, focus, and bravery, that will serve students long after they have left the arena.

But truthfully, we never really leave the arena. We enter new ones. For the young students moving from primary to secondary school, SEA was only one of many exams life will require them to sit. They will be tested in and outside of the classroom. They will be tested in the home and eventually the workplace. Trinidad and Tobago is being tested. The Caribbean is facing myriad challenges. Last month Europe experienced the hottest June in recorded history. The world itself is embroiled in urgent struggle.

We will never see an end to our examinations. But we can be prepared, and prepare our children.

Professor Brian Copeland
Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications (Ag): Mrs Wynell Gregorio
Editor (Ag): Joel Henry (Email:joel.henry@sta.uwi.edu)

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