I looked at Aaron Duncan on the vast Grandstand stage – confident, articulate and completely at ease. Apart from feeling proud of his many achievements, the latest being crowned Junior Calypso Monarch for the fourth time, I found myself thinking about how far ahead of his peers he seems to be. I wondered how we could replicate his success, and create a type of formula to help a greater number of young people in the school system to be able to get on a stage, sing about serious issues and impact on an audience with their words and stage presence.
For certain, it is not simply about getting on a stage. Crafting a Calypso or any type of song is akin to the creation of an essay. There must be a central theme, an introduction, development of the storyline and an ending, linking back to the main idea. Our current national challenges with literacy, language and understanding of simple concepts, demand a new and more culturally relevant approach to our education.
Scholars such as Dr. Hollis Liverpool – teacher, educator and himself a Master Calypsonian – wrote decades ago about the need to fully integrate our Carnival Arts into our curricula. Indeed, it is possible to teach mathematics and economics by studying the creation and development of a Mas band, or teach focus and discipline through the art of wire-bending or the fundamentals of language, current affairs and the ability to think quickly through our Ex-Tempo.
In a society such as Trinidad and Tobago, primary school education should be a time of wonderment, with a Sailor Mas passing through one day, a Dragon Band the next, or Fancy Indian Mas or a Midnight Robber; all being present whether it is Carnival or not. Today there is only one man that I know of who teaches the Indian stick-fighting art of Gatka to children in schools. I don't know the details of how he works, but I am not aware of any Gatka workshops to pass on his knowledge to a wider portion of our community.
This brings us of course to the question of the teachers within our school system. While it is good that teachers are now finally being ‘probed' for misconduct and dereliction of duty, obviously it has taken too long to establish clear standards, boundaries and consequences, so we are now at crisis stage regarding our teachers.
My own experience working in our school system has shown is that when it comes to the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, teachers for the most part are ill-informed about our history, our multi-cultural foundations and the linkages between culture, heritage and self-development. In fact, many times we, the cultural workers, are viewed as outsiders coming in for a short time to do something mandated by the Ministry, after which they will be able to go back to their regular school schedule. In effect, culture and heritage are relegated to the realm of the ‘extra-curricular' and cultural workers like us become nuisances taking up valuable time that should be spent on ‘real' subjects.
Now, this is not an attack on teachers; there are many dedicated educators within the system and my family and I are still benefitting from their commitment today. The point is really about the inadequacy of a colonial approach to education within a diverse society. The problem is that in spite of the talk, we continue to miss opportunities to engender pride in our culture and heritage, to strengthen our nation. Culture matters, and by continuing to treat culture and the arts as something practised by a separate group of people, we fail to recognise that our culture is a living breathing manifestation of who we are, our struggles, our triumphs and the future of our young nation.
So, the solution is for those in authority to get rid of Eurocentric and foreign understandings of who we are and incorporate a clear understanding of us, especially at the basic level of Teacher Training. In charting a vision and a path for our growing nation, we need to tap into the power and potential of Aaron Duncan and others like him to transform our education system into one which happens not as a parallel to who we are, but one which is informed and inspired by our stories, our traditions and the very richness of ‘we'.
When this happens, only then will our education make sense.