Need to rethink Concordat
GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, June 20 2012
There should be a rethink of the 1960 Concordat, under which scores of bright youngsters have been and continue to be denied each year the opportunity and the right to be educated at Trinidad and Tobago’s premier secondary schools, while less equipped children gain automatic entry to these schools on the basis of religious affiliation.
There is a built-in discrimination which governments should no longer tolerate and/or tacitly encourage, a discrimination which has deprived countless children of lower income, indeed deprived families of their full democratic right to upward mobility. Under the Concordat, which was entered into in 1960 when Trinidad and Tobago was still a colony of the United Kingdom, it was agreed that Trinidad and Tobago’s churches and various religious bodies, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jamaat and the Presbyterian Church, et al, would enjoy the unquestioned right to select 20 percent of the children entering their schools annually, on the basis of what is now called the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examinations.
Over the years it has proven an effective stumbling block to many ambitious children of lower and lower middle income families. The fortunates are accommodated under the outrageously unfair 20 percent provision. Indeed, as I have pointed out in the past it is not merely unfair but unjust in its built-in 20 percent clause which has effectively denied many a hard-working child, who would have been otherwise successful, from upward mobility. It should not be necessary to state that the remaining 80 percent admissions are open to all.
Last week, with the then mounting controversy over the planned merger of the Point Cumana Roman Catholic Primary School with the Point Cumana Government Primary School there was the hint of the start of a change to the original thrust of the Concordat. Nevertheless, at the proverbial last minute, the People’s Partnership Government backed away from the merger of the two schools, which would have seen the two as a wholly Government primary school. Instead, however, “co-sharing arrangements” will be instituted as obtain today in some 11 schools in Trinidad and Tobago.
This tacit retreat in no way diminishes the need for a determined rethink on the colonial Concordat. What needs to be appreciated is that apart from the cost of the construction of denominational schools which is largely funded by Government, and by extension Trinidad and Tobago taxpayers, regardless of their religious persuasion, the salaries of teachers and other staff are wholly paid for by taxpayers.
I wish to make it clear that I am not anti-religion and respect the rights of all religions be they Christian, Shango, Hindu, Muslim or otherwise. Nonetheless, I have tended to lean to the position adopted by the United States in which the operating or the subsidising of parochial schools with taxpayers’ money was banned.
Today, almost 50 years after achieving Independence, Trinidad and Tobago continues the outdated United Kingdom and European custom of funding the Church’s commanding position in education with taxpayers’ money. It was Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, and author of that country’s Declaration of Independence, who would urge in 1779 “a crusade against ignorance”, insisting on State funded, State run schools. “The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than a thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles, who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”
This does mean that religious bodies should not have their own schools, run by their own Boards of Education.
However, the operating of these schools should be funded by relevant religious groups.
Otherwise, full control should be exercised by whatever the Government of the day, on behalf of taxpayers. Undoubtedly, the contribution of the Church to primary school education in Trinidad and Tobago has been tremendous, dating back as it does to the days of slavery. Methodists, Baptists and Moravians were largely involved in the educating of children of slaves.
Secondary education in Trinidad and Tobago would remain largely non-existent until the establishment in 1859 of Queen’s Collegiate School, the predecessor to the Queen’s Royal College. This would later be followed by the setting up of St Mary’s College and other colleges. But I have strayed. There is a need to rethink the 1960 Concordat and the time for that rethink is now.