Film Review+ : Bazodee

Machel Montano’s Bazodee (directed by Todd Kessler and written by Claire Ince) attempted to highlight the vivid colours of the natural landscape and ethnic solidarity/“real unity” between Afro and Indo Trinidadians. This solidarity is sometimes undermined by the racial stereotypes and antagonisms from the two majority ethnic groups. The film does not show the depth of these wounds instead it shows a story of something “inside ah all ah we”/essential to Trini people that looks beyond cultural differences and unites us as “one people.” What made the film interesting was not its assignment to show how ‘Trini culture’ and music have the potential to unite people; rather the film illustrates our attachment to the tendency to reproduce misleading narratives that overemphasise racial disunity and bitterness in our everyday life while championing the myth that national festivals provide a space for the pure transcendence of ethnic conflict and misunderstanding.

I watched the film in the company of five bredrin at Trincity Mall’s Cinemas 8. Leading up to day I went to the cinema, the opinions on the film were divided – “de best film eva” or “nah nah nah nah nah nah Machel.” As someone who writes and teaches on the popular culture landscape in the Caribbean, the thought of missing a film produced by and starring the premier soca artiste who has gone well beyond the title of “Mr. Fete” to “Mr. Carnival” was foolish. Machel Montano, with the exception of the famous “Wild Antz” music video, has developed a long career of excellence in live performances and he has been ahead of the curve in music video standards for performing artistes in the Caribbean. The expectations of a “Machel Movie” after years of well-produced spectacles of Machel Mondays were inevitably high. In addition, coming out of a general election, only one year ago, as the government of Trinidad and Tobago is forced to make difficult economic decisions with scare resources, race consciousness and mobilisation around being ‘Indian’ and ‘African’ are high. And maybe, just maybe, for us in Trinidad and Tobago, the success of Multisymptom’s Sonita, a reggae-chutney romance story in song, proclaiming a male Afro-Trinidadian’s unrequited love for and Indian woman, assisted in pre-conditioning the market to the Bazodee film which follows a similar portrayal.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-9-51-28-pmMachel Montano. “Machel Montano HD- Wild Antz (Official Soca Music Video 2009). YouTube video, 4:24, Ayinde Olatunji. Published February 19, 2009. Accessed October 6, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_palTY3Rb4

Bazodee is the story of the love entanglements of Anita Ponchouri (Natalie Perera), daughter of an upper class Indo-Trinidadian family. While the family appears to have a stable class position, beneath the surface, Anita’s father, the businessman, is submerged in debt. In a series of fortuitous events, soca singer Lee de Leon (Machel Montano) performs at Anita’s engagement party for her and her London-based Indian fiancé. They develop an attraction for each other, at the high point, expressing their physical desires at j’ouvert and Anita, conflicted between the marriage of her fiancé and the adventure of Lee de Leon, ultimately chooses Lee as her lover.

From the beginning of the movie, yuh start slow winin’ on your seat when you hear the j’ouvert anthem Water Flowing leading us through the well-shot visuals of Trinidad and Tobago on screen. An entire film based on the #1 songs of Machel Montano from the early 2000s all the way up to this year’s soca is enough to send the nation back on memory lane and feel good moments. However, the weak plot, predictable story line, flat characters and contrived efforts at humour for a local audience made the film’s story telling and acting difficult to defend. Perhaps the film title “Bazodee: The Story of a Ukulele in a Violin Case” would better capture the plot. From the magical Drupatee adlibs and bass line accompaniment while Machel singly performed Real Unity on his ukulele at the engagement party to his recommendation of a “desert island” for romance as Pigeon Point Tobago to the depoliticisation of No War, decrying crime and violence, set in the ghetto turned to an on-screen love song to Anita’s auto-tune rendition of One More Time in the party that gave T-Pain a sore throat to the fake handicap of Lee De Leon’s grandmother contradicted by her agility and exemption of wearing a hard hat on a construction site…The distance between scriptwriting in Westwood Park and Bazodee is not very far. The moment of truth in the film was Lee De Leon’s quick return to construction labour, mixing cement doing “an honest black man’s work” immediately after he had a leading song for the carnival season. Rell soca artistes does wake up to dis reality from as early as Ash Wednesday.

bazodee-2

Accessed October 7, 2016. https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-ZkGsiUXeHsM/V6KhfHnD3wI/AAAAAAAALuk/BnUuy-kiDQg8XQnriYNDmt4Q-vzxqZcpACLcB/s1600/bazodee-2.jpg

Why is the film so loved and did so well in spite of the poverty of plot? The film does not offer us historical context, it tells us there is a mystic power of carnival that heals all wounds and it tells us that these wounds haunt us everywhere we go. It is the Trinidad and Tobago (the deserted island) that we want to believe in. Anita is a young Indian woman who feels confined by the choices of her family’s expecations. The film shows the expression of a young Indo-Trinidadian woman who wants to develop her own ideas about gender ideals, career choices, types of family and more pointedly, types of attraction. Here, Lee De Leon, played by Machel Montano, represents a freedom of choice through his performance of Afro-Trinidadian masculinity. The film is centred on the pursuit of a kind of freedom by and Indo-Trinidadian female lead. At its core, she is rejecting the perception of the cultural identity she will assume as an Indian woman marrying a wealthy Indian man. What this film, like many films and literature fall short in is assuming that the identity of ‘blackness’ is purely freedom giving. It portrays a narrative of black identity, in particular black men giving freedom and set apart from race/class expectations. This perceived freedom denies the dynamism and complexities of Afro-Trinidadian life, history and identity.

Bazodee also reproduces the popular myth of excessive racial tension at the expense of complicating that notion with the micro-practices and everyday negotiations of multiculturalism in Trinidad and Tobago. In the film, Lee De Leon’s manager and best friend is of mixed ethnicity, appearing as a dougla; the business man named Vijay who phenotypically looks Afro-Trinidadian is involved in a web of relations between Anita’s family and Lee. Contrary to the harmful ways political elites manipulate racial discourses; in everyday life, ordinary Afro and Indo Trinidadians negotiate their identities in in the interest of community and harmony. More work needs to be done in the area that looks at micro-ethnic relations as seen most sharply in the classic novel Green Days by the River (1967) by Michael Anthony.

bazodee-2016-staz-nair-natalie-perera

Accessed October 7, 2016. http://sanaarants.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/bazodee-2016-staz-nair-natalie-perera.png

The intended audience for the film was directed to the Indian/South Asian diaspora. The film was about Trinidad and Tobago and not necessarily for Trinidad and Tobago. The cast recruitment of Bollywood actors and actresses and the beautiful Bollywood aesthetic from beginning to end set the direction of the film for the international film circuit. Machel Montano and others while yearning for ‘quality’ local film are trapped in global frame that cast a cinematic gaze that exoticises the Caribbean, articulate racial stereotypes and produce actors and actresses with the worst possible ‘Trinidad and Tobago variant of standard English’ and ‘speaking properly accents.’ Bazodee joins a new trend in Trinidad and Tobago cinema, along with God Loves the Fighter (2013, directed by Damian Marcano), with the “international look” and “globally ready” product finish with stereotypical representations and half-baked plots. At the expense of more accurate representation and good story lines, we are seduced by the spectacle of appearing on the big screen in the way any Hollywood and Netflix star does. Examples of excellent English-speaking Caribbean film are not far, we can turn to a page from Bim (1974, directed by Hugh Robertson) and Dancehall Queen (1997, directed by Rick Elgood and Don Letts) for good advice.

The film was perfect for the ethnographer taking notes of people talking and singing back at the screen. The fact of the matter is that there was no time we believed we were watching the fictional character “Lee De Leon.” We were watching the king of soca, our beloved Machel Montano acting as Machel Montano in the Machel Movie. I encourage everyone to watch the film in the company of family and friends. Laugh and sing along, wine on de seat and big up a soca artiste for trying to blow things up for our twin island republic.

Aap jaisa koi
Meri zindagi mein aaye
Baat ban jaaye

Blog Reference:
Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “Film Review+: Bazodee.” Blog, Accessed [Insert Date Accessed]. http://amilcarsanatan.com/film-review-bazodee/

Cover Picture:
Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.eurweb.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/bazodee-poster-pic.jpg

Further Readings:
Brereton, Bridget. 2010. “ All ah we is not one: Historical and Ethnic Narratives in Pluralist Trinidad.” The Global South 4 (2): 218-238. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/424482/pdf

Kerrigan, Dylan. 2015. “Culture and Power.” Blog. Accessed October 7, 2016. http://www.dylankerrigan.com/opeds/culture-and-power

YouTube links:
Machel Montano. “Machel Montano – I Forget (Official Music Video).” YouTube video, 3:31, machelmontanomusic. Published July 19, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjs3Ul-o99o

Machel Montano. “Xtatik Feat. Machel Montano – Water Flowing (Flood Riddim).” YouTube video, 4:20, RiddimcrackerChunes. Published August 13, 2012. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hUdfnn4jaw

Machel Montano. “Machel Montano feat. Drupatee – Real Unity.” YouTube video, 4:59, DJ Maco. Published September 15, 2016. Accessed October 7, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK61XfLON90

Facks, Doh Run Slack and Ways of Seeing Gender

Has Facebook Live changed the game? Yes. In Minnesota, Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of the Philando Castile, went live on Facebook and actively reported the developments of what happened after her boyfriend was shot while sitting in his car at a traffic stop. In a way that was impossible before, the world had the chance to tune in to a situation that hopped geographies and personal friend networks on police violence. Some persons on my ‘homefeed’ have taken Facebook Live as a chance to “drop wisdom” as they wait on the bus, talking about the economy or poor customer service. I have seen two videos so far of persons holding their phones in selfie position just before they sleep and looking at the camera in silence with an unbelievable number of persons viewing and commenting. What makes Facebook Live unique in 2016 is the immediate engagement between community and content creator as content is being broadcasted. No theater hall, no City Gate hot spot of traffic, no auditorium, Facebook live gives us a new room for a new audience and of course new personalities.

On Sunday 11th September, the all-white “Ciroc the Boat” hosted by Scorch had a grand closing of a fight that moved from one location to the next involving some women, at least one man, and a Samsung phone as the weapon of choice. By Monday, the video went rival and received well over 1,000 shares on Facebook. LoopTT headlined the news story as “All-white boat party turns dirty” and sadly, the situation also made the evening news. The Facebook noise did not concern itself with the lack of security and no arrests after the fight; instead the concern was with the status of elite party group that seemed to have been penetrated by “ghetto elements.” The fight became a hot topic for radio hosts for some days after and the story then introduces the two dominant personalities for the past couple of days, Rachel Price and Rankin Kia Boss.

PureTT got into the game early and facilitated an interview with Kia Rankin Boss who publicly challenged Rachel Price on a Facebook Live video and famously described her as a “pommerack with two little foot.” According to Rankin Kia Boss, she was upset when she was informed that comedian and media personality Rachel Price asked “if de man gay, call een and tell meh if he gay.” Rankin Kia Boss says that the man who was the subject of discussion is her brother and she therefore had to respond to Rachel Price. “I come out for she too and de drama start.” Rankin Kia Boss with 34, 856 followers (as at September 18, 2016) has mobilised large cross sections of support and online engagement. Part of it has to do with the high entertainment value of her standard West Indian cuss out for all to see, part of it has to do with the spectacle of a public dialogue led by a transgender person from Trinidad and Tobago which is not common (in the media for public consumption), and part of it has to do with the chord she strikes by tapping into the diminishing support and vibes for Rachel Price.

In a way we have not seen before, not Saucy Pow, not Jowelle De Souza’s highly visible political campaign for MP San Fernando West, the talk of “gay, transgender, lesbian, macomere man, hen” has been happening at a national level with some level of debate, reason, and a struggle to define terms for sexual identities. Very very interesting.

On one hand, the positive to the Rankin Boss national dialogue is that a working class /gaza/ghetto yute’s perspective, voice and articulations are bringing wide audiences closer to the lives of persons who travel the wide spectrum of sexuality. LGBT organisations throughout the Caribbean suffer from a lack of political legitimacy in a complex class configuration because advocacy groups are either fixed in a narrow middle/upper class section of society and come off as elitist and disconnected from working people struggles or when they actively mobilise working class LGBTQI communities, class prejudice further marginalize them and their efforts because they do not fit the ‘respectability’ politics of the day.
On the other hand, the unproductive part of today’s buzz is that the dialogue is happening in an oh too familiar context of bacchanal. Think about Pastor Stewart and Agnes in the famous “Pastor Stewart” mini-episode of the Santana series. It is not the hypocrisy and fraudulent character of Pastor Stewart on trial, he defends his by demeaning Agnes in a line of verbal aggressions on her sexuality that makes him the “winner” in the aftermath. And we all stand as onlookers crying “oooo goooooood”.

Kia Rankin Boss popularity does not correlate with an acceptance of her positionality or cause, but instead the “rankin” which is happening online is nurturing her community. Basically, a cuss out is good bacchanal entertainment to the average West Indian who has seen it happen in the market, on Charlotte Street, down Halfway Tree and on the buss stop after school. This bacchanal is rooted deep in our culture such as the extempo art form in calypso that is not only an Olympics of polemic and rhetorical debate but also shaming. The shaming can start on light matters such as the clothes you wear or how uneven your pancakes come out of a frying pan. It usually grows into the heavy blows by attacking your gender performance, putting your sexuality out for public consumption and contempt, and by expressing homophobic, transphobic, and sexist tropes to demean you. The bacchanal for the past week done long time, what we hear is very sexist, transphobic politics that is more interested in outing of women in the public sphere instead of defending the persons you love. Just because a viewpoint comes from a subject of an oppressed or marginal group does not mean that their politics is progressive or transgressive. Even when they disavow labels around their identity and claim to speak “facks,” we need to protect others from any harm. The “doh run slack,” “$250,000” vagina is not merely a joke for Facebook chit chat, it is a discourse that throws up the vagina (“Cunt”) a site for empowerment but also virulent attacks and shame. Part of the rankin’ discourses is that “my vagina is better than yours” and such lines of argument draw on misogynistic and sexist tropes.

For this reason, in the case of Kia Rankin Boss who self identifies as a woman and explains the process of her sex change, she still articulates homophobic and transphobic tropes in her quarrel with Rachel Price. This has the possibility of producing gross stereotypes and making caricatures out of diverse and complex communities of LGBTQI people in Trinidad and Tobago. The “plain talk bad manners” style was the response Rankin Kia Boss made to what we have come to know Rachel Price for over the years in the mix of some ‘good’ comedy performances.

What we do know however is that the heterosexist polity of Trinidad and Tobago creates limited avenues for expression and being yuhself if you ‘deviate’ from the norm. Acting wassy, being a wajang, cussin out and rankin are forms of negotiations in a violent and oppressive culture that enjoy the spectacle of a cuss out and for a while tolerate LGBTQI articulations in that moment (and usually under those conditions). Is this the only way we will allow ourselves to see a community in public? And, when they are seen are they, are they also seen as valid people and communities?

What scholars such as Carla Moore examine in queering dancehall spaces and Nikoli Attai refer to as “wajang femininity”, the ways of seeing gender are always complex and contextual. The upcoming online Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, edited by Dr. Sue Ann Barratt and Dr. Angelique Nixon, titled “Reading, Writing, Seeing Gender: Caribbean Voices, Identities and Politics in Media” is timely.

A nation grappling with the difference between sex, gender, performance and self-identification is not something we should run away from, it is something we must confront with teaching and learning. It is no doubt that we have grown more tolerant of our diverse peoples but acceptance through understanding is the step ahead, in the right direction.

…I hear I does look like ah avocado with two foot… :(

 

Blog Reference:

Sanatan, Amílcar. 2016. “Facks, Doh Run Slack and Ways of Seeing Gender.” Blog, September 19. Accessed [Insert Date Accessed]. http://amilcarsanatan.com/facks-doh-run-slack-ways-seeing-gender/
Cover Picture:

Accessed September 19, 2016. http://mypellau.com/pellaumag/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2082085516_8252d8e70a-1.jpg

References:

“Pastor Stewart.” YouTube video, 4:31, posted by “Lexo TV,” December 12, 2010. Accessed September 19, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oryTGmWlLwA

Further Reading:

Moore, Carla. 2014. “Wah Eye Nuh See Heart Nuh Leap: Queer Marronage in the Jamaican Dancehall.” Master’s thesis, Department for Gender Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Accessed September 19, 2016. https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/1974/8599/1/Moore_Carla_KM_201401_MA.pdf
1. Chapter 5: Brave “Battymen” and the (Im)possibilities of a Straight Dancehall. 99-122.

50 Shades of GATE: Beyond Party Politics and Ole Talk

“And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want”
– John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change

We would not be having this discussion on GATE today, if government wastage over the past ten years were not so high. We would not be easy to “settle” for a politically expedient solution, a short cut to reengineering GATE as a sustainable education programme that reduces poverty and emancipates minds, if administration after administration monitored, evaluated and intervened in the programme as was outlined in its establishment.

Already, student and youth leaders with narrow political ambitions have clung onto the low political hanging fruit and claim the deferred changes for 2017 academic year as a victory. What I cannot settle for is a weakening of our democracy by limiting public debate and participation with inadequate information and consultation in a hard economic period. Austerity and recession do not trump democracy and people power. No report and no information do not produce the type of student and education we say we want and demand in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

Multiple messages and Communication Errors

According to the Post-Cabinet Press Briefing on the 3rd August 2016, it was announced, “Where the household income is above $20,000.00 per month students will be required to pay 50% of tuition fees”. However, hours later at a PNM Party Group Meeting in the Port-of-Spain area, acting Attorney General Minister Stuart Young shared that it was in situations where household income is above $30,000.00 per month students will be required to pay 50% of tuition fees. While this position offers greater relief to lower-middle class families it is a classic example of the major communication problem of the sitting government on the handling of the GATE review – miscommunication at the Cabinet Press Conference or miscommunication by a Cabinet Minister in a party forum. It also highlights the gap between what Ministers decide, what Ministers say, what the Media reports, what the public knows and what they public therefore, come to believe.

It is easy to write off activists who are cautious about government changes to GATE or those who struggle to defend the continuity the (old) funding facility as “unreasonable.” Such critics place greater faith in the government’s decisions and wisdom over the public’s demand for more information. Also, this view throws the burden of proof on people who have little information to make a decision on a matter in which the government has not sufficiently rationalized and democratized. What we must push back against is a politics of withdrawal in an economic recession where we invent “strong leaders” to hammer through public decision making because our democracy is weak and our institutions are not responsive.

“Waiting” on the Report

The greatest point offered by the student mobilization effort was building a chorus for a popular demand of the GATE Task Force Report (2016). On the13th July, it was reported that the 70-page GATE Task Force Report would be submitted to Cabinet on the 14th July and the nation “could expect answers within two weeks.” To date, the report has not been made public for popular education and debate. The Minister of Education, Anthony Garcia has not communicated anything on the status of the report thus far. 5th August 2016, the Guardian newspaper in an interview with Minister Stuart Young reported, “ Young could not say if Government would be making the Task Force report public.” The only forum where representatives of the State came face-to-face with the public on GATE, this year, was at a PNM-based professional organisation, The Heleconia Foundation, led by PNM Senator Mike Coppin on the 28th July 2016 with a presentation by Minister Dr. Lovell Francis. While I commend Dr. Francis for making himself available for public criticism, he did not advance any government positions on the matter that were not already made public. The question and answer segment of the programme had questions directed to the Minister one after the other, well after the expected the finish time. Many of the attendees were also in solidarity with the position of the UWI Socialist Student Conference (UWI SSC). For this reason, Senator Coppin’s full endorsement of the changes to GATE are very interesting because they not only do not reflect the mood of the forum he convened, it does not even account for some of the considerations offered by the panelists and his Foundation membership.

Composition of the Task Force and the Myth of Consultation

In March, it was reported that a GATE Task Force was appointed to submit a report to the Education Ministry by July 2016. The Task Force was comprised of two (2) consultants, seven (7) state representatives, two (2) University representatives, four (4) civil society representatives (of which three (3) are private sector NGOs) and one (1) student representative. The composition of the Task Force is not only anti-student, it suggests the framework upon which the terms of reference for the task force was set up – matching and measuring education in relations to the market. No student leader or civil society organsiation concerned about education would want to be present at such an unevenly balanced Task Force. If there was a commission on Capital Development and the Private Sector, can you imagine a committee that included only one (1) representative of business? If not in that case, then why should it be in ours? Moreover, the Task Force was convened to review GATE, what is abundantly clear now is that it was meant to assess the wastages in the system but also propose to the government where “cuts” can be made. While this intervention was necessary and should have occurred many years ago, a more engaging and fulfilling study on ‘the feasibility of funding quality higher education in Trinidad and Tobago’ may have developed a stronger basis for popular support and commitment.

Politics unfolds events from multiple positions and not straight lights. On the 25th June, the UWI Guild of Students hosted a “GATE Consultation” as the deadline for the submission of the report neared (mid-July) in an attempt to break with the top-down closed-door boardroom of the Task Force. The Task Force was not required to submit these inputs in its original constitution. Interestingly, in an unsurprising twist of events, the government now references the student consultation that was submitted by the UWI Guild President as a consultative measure that was included into the findings of the Report. A ‘save face’ strategy at the student level has been now co-opted by the government for their ‘save face’ approach in order to legitimize the Report by claiming it included some degree of consultation. While members of the Task Force may not be at liberty to discuss the contents of the Report, it was the duty of student leadership to make demands on the government to publish the report in order to inform students about the framework upon which Cabinet would be making decisions.

GATE Task Force:

– Mr. Errol Simms, Chairperson
– Theresa Davidson, Director of Funding and Grants, Ministry of Education
– Neville Niles, education research specialist;
– Dr. Gaylene Holdup, Scholarship and Advanced Training Division, Ministry of Education
– Two (2) Finance Ministry representatives
– Planning and Development Ministry representative
– Labour and Small Enterprise Ministry representative
– Tobago House of Assembly (THA) representative
– Dr Rolph Balgobin, T&T Manufacturers’ Association

– Natasha Subhero, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce
– Richard Saunders, campus registrar, UWI St Augustine Campus
– Dr. Ruby Alleyne, Vice-President, Quality Assurance, UTT
– Dr. Harrison Guy, Human Resource Association of T&T
– Folade Mutota, Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINA)
– Makesi Peters, President, UWI Guild of Students

Cost of GATE and Cuts

If you believe that education is “free” at any level then you are an enemy to your own cause, wherever you may stand on the GATE matter. Education is a tremendously expensive service managed by the State to protect the welfare of the citizenry.

YEAR TOTAL $ CUMULATIVE $
2005 102, 193, 273 103, 193, 273
2006 179, 689, 121 281, 882, 394
2007 472, 771, 454 754, 653, 848
2008 501, 783, 052 1,256,436,900
2009 574,913,141 1,831,350,041
2010 584,699,646 2,416,049,687
2011 624,997,024 3,041,046,711
2012 757,641,662 3,798,688,373
2013 726,535,523 4,525,223,896
2014 638,353,301 5,163,577,197
2015 699,884,477 5,863,461,674
TOTAL 5,863,461,674  

What has not been discussed enough in public is that GATE does not include University funding alone, it funds many applicants of the wide number of Tertiary Level Institutes of Trinidad and Tobago that includes public, regional and private institutions. The private institutions include the College of Ultrasound Studies, Bordercom International Tertiary Academy, Academy of Motor Mechanics Ltd. for example, academic and vocational post-secondary training is covered under the programme. For this reason, the overwhelming critique of academia and university student performances may invisibilise the diverse population of those accessing GATE.

The costs of GATE and breakdowns of the information institution by institution have only begun being circulated in the media in the past week. What we do not know as a public is how do the decisions address the issue of the sustainability of GATE. Were the cuts rationalized or was a budgetary cap instituted and reduction measures followed? This is of serious concern when a social programme of this magnitude has been reviewed and decided upon before the reading of the National Budget for the new fiscal year. The political ends of ‘cuts’ to GATE may have been met but the value end of the programme may suffer.

Philosophy of Education

Michael Manley, in The Politics of Change: A Jamaican Testament (1974), wrote “Every developing society must aim at free, compulsory, universal education as its highest national priority…. Right at the outset it is necessary to clarify a philosophical question about education which cannot be left unanswered.” (138) Manley is no doubt making a case for broader primary and secondary school education access to the poor and marginalized here. But he introduces an element, which is often ignored in the public discourses on GATE, he recognizes a “philosophy of education.” Words such as “return on investment”, “economic benefits”, “and wealth creation” and the neoliberal likes fit into a logic of capital that starves the instrisic value of education to a people.

The design of GATE in the Vision 2020 strategy and policy was pegged against a controversial development objective and an unclearly defined notion of a “knowledge society.” However, lack of monitoring, poor data collection and political changes to the design of GATE established in 2004 created a political patronage machine for general elections for years. This is why there is a loud voice against the “gimme gimme culture” of GATE, which is seen as a political patronage programme more than a poverty reduction and education strategy. Dr. Terrence Farrell in The Underachieving Society: Development Strategy and Policy in Trinidad and Tobago 1958-2008 (2012), illustrates the failures of the State to execute Vision 2020 in the framework of its original mandate. He adds, “ Vision 2020 became more of a slogan than a plan in implementation…Far from being an exercise in charting the long-term future of the country, Vision 2020 ended as an exercise in futility.” The Vision 2020 document is no longer the guiding policy document for the current PNM Administration, however, the manner in which the “evaluation” to GATE was made have shown that there is little learned from the lesson of the past.

What is valuable cannot always be monetized. What is valuable is valuable. Education is valuable to the person and the development of society.
Questions to the Minister(s) of Education


1. Why was it the government’s approach to changing GATE one that had an anti-student Taskforce, no publication of their findings, no consultative requirements and a Cabinet decision three weeks before the beginning of the academic year?

2. What are the implications for making decisions to GATE prior to the reading of the national budget in terms of public participation and debate?

3. While a means test sounds good on paper. The implementation of such criteria raises a number of concerns:

– Is the government prepared to justify why this approach was taken which has fundamentally changed the orientation of GATE?

– Why was an income-based means test approach emphasised and not a merit based approach based on the GPA system? On the 4th August 2016, it was reported that the government recovered $100 million for the period 2007-2014 for students who failed to meet GATE contractual requirements. Again, we are given decisions without a rationale from the government.

– Does the means test define income as household income which includes the home of the GATE applicant?

– If household income is defined as one which includes parents and the applicant as a person in that home. Does this make assumptions about the type of home and structures people come from? How do we count families with multiple dependents? More importantly, does this make assumptions about the interpersonal relations in the home – the relationship between parents and young adults?

– in good faith, means test systems help the most vulnerable but what is the process of this means test? How will the government guarantee by putting in measures that this system does not further deepen the political patronage that exists with social programmes?

– A means test also runs the risk of welfarising education. More and more on Facebook and in public debate I see discussion about which group and what group is worthy of GATE. How do we create a system that does not turn classes against each other? In the means test tiered system, are we really including the economic realities of lower middle class homes who on paper represent a very good income earning situation but often have little disposable income in spite of their productivity and economic contribution?

US College Model: Welcome to the Caribbean


I am afraid that the language of the Cabinet decision on GATE reeks of American-style university management. In that model, loan ceilings are raised because student debt is seen as normal, the encouragement of philanthropy by the private sector becomes a convenient strategy for state withdrawal from long terms investments, and education is not about culture, liberation, personal growth, it is about jobs. At some local universities, contracts are being designed on the length of an academic year and not the calendar year.

A national discussion on the possibility of caps on tuition fees are more important than ever because they are expected to rise within this academic year. Which means 25% or 50% of what your degree costs when you matriculated may have a very different cost after your first academic year. The UWI SSC is advocating this in order to prevent students increasingly paying more and more for tuition even when they are sponsored part of the fees. A number of persons say that the “changes are not too bad”. My default position is different. I do not expect the worst from government; I expect them and challenge them always to do better.

Bringing political pleasure by hurting democracy? That is 50 Shades of GATE

This “evaluation” and “review” process has done more to discourage students by “thinking three times” before they apply for higher education than build a culture of informed decision making and responsibility when persons think about the possibilities of education and their future.

An economic recession demands hard decisions on national budgets. A cut to social spending without addressing institutional accountability is neoliberalism 101. We value the self-reliance and hard work of generations of Caribbean people who studied hard and saved to access education – something that they valued very highly. At the same time, we are not willing to sacrifice our philosophy of education that maintained its open and democratic character. If we sacrifice this, we are taking away our sweat and steps on progress.

In whatever way I can, I will continue to encourage a different conversation on GATE and spend a year sensitizing and mobilizing students around sustainable and quality public education. Let us not turn against our people in this moment of hardship, we feel the pain. Let us turn our eyes to greater state accountability and the democratization of information and decision making to make the walk a little better.

How My Student Guild Dropped the Ball on GATE and Why They Need Our Help

Failing to Act: March 2016 – July 2016

10th March
GATE Task Force Appinted
Media publishes the appointment of the GATE Task Force tasked with reviewing tuition expenditure. The Task Force is expected to submit a report to the Education Ministry by July 2016. The UWI Guild President is a representative on the Task Force.

7th April
The official result of the UWI Guild Elections 2016 published.
Makesi Peters, the incumbent candidate, was elected President 2016-2017.

8th April
Media: CNMG, Student perspectives on the National Budget
Makesi Peters, President and Michael Rajnauth, Vice President of the UWI Guild of Students offer comments on the budget review.

13th April

Media: CTV, Student perspectives on the National Budget
Makesi Peters, President and Darrion Narine, National Affairs Chairperson express that students have “concerns” about the status of GATE.

“The big question is what is going to happen to GATE?” Peters asked. Peters does not explicitly state a student position on GATE.

16th May
GATE is on the Inter Campus Guild Council Agenda (16th May – 20th May, 2016)
On the opening day of ICGC, Michael Rajnauth, Vice President, presented “The future of Gate for Trinidad and Tobago” on Agenda Item No. 4.

27th May
Guild Representation at the University Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GPC).
Makesi Peters, Presidents posts to the Guild Facebook page that a talking point will be “Tuition payment plan for students.”

31st May
The Guild Council retreat is convened.

5th June
Councilors do the Running Man Challenge to build team spirit

23rd June
Media: CTV, discussing GATE
Makesi Peters, Guild President, Johnathan St.Louis-Nahous, Treasurer and Shenell Felix, FHE Representative discuss further “concerns” students have on GATE.

BAM!
23rd June
UWI Student Guild advertises a public forum “CALLING ALL TERTIARY STUDENTS: FUTURE OF GATE” to be held on Saturday 25th June, at 1pm (two days after the advertisment was published online)

On record, Makesi Peters took the recommendations from the single consultation (which was poorly attended) as the “stance” of the students and Student Guild. (see: 3:15-3:56, http://www.cnc3.co.tt/morning-brew/uwi-guild-high-level-anxiety-among-students-over-gate-report )

6th July
Pokèmon Go released
What is GATE? I found a Pikachu on the Waterfront walking next to the Attorney General, Faris Al-Wari!

10th July
On a Saturday, the UWI Guild Council communicates that a “Patrick Manning GATE Fund” will be established by the Council in order to address the “pending changes” to GATE.

12th July

Vice President, Michael Rajnauth issued a ‘Memorandum’ titled, “New Tuition Payment Response.”

It opens, “It is important to note, that I myself do not sit on the GATE Review Task Force.” Here, Rajnauth critically distances himself from his Guild President and then goes further to list the individual work he has been done at the campus level. Then, he adds, as a result of his presentations at ICGC, the Guild developed a position on Tuition Payment. He notes, “The request entailed that a new policy be implemented where the University allows students to make monthly or even weekly installments for their tuition fees.” It is both strange and very interesting that his Office independently issued a statement. The PRO and Guild President was yet to communicate the Council’s position. In addition, the letter suggested an anxiety about “tuition payment plans”. This matter was presented at F&GPC since the 27th May. For the first time, the matter was being publicly raised. Are there adjustments to tuition fees and/or GATE that the Guild Council was privy to knowing about but have not raised with the student body?

14th July
The UWI Guild Council position on GATE:
1. Students in the currently enrolled in University should not pay for tuition (8:01 – 8: 10)
2. Prospective students should be treated with a cost-sharing model for tuition fees, if GATE is no longer fully sponsored by the State ( 8:11 – 8: 18)

REF: Hema Ramikissoon, CNC3. “The Uncertainty of GATE.” http://www.cnc3.co.tt/morning-brew/uwi-guild-high-level-anxiety-among-students-over-gate-report Accessed July 18, 2016.

The UWI Guild Council dropped the ball:

1. Too Slow To Act

The timeline of public communications suggest that the UWI Guild Council did not establish an official position for the students until the end of June. However, the Task Force, the constitution of members and terms of reference, was established since March. Since the appointment of the task force, it was already explained that a Report will be submitted to the Education Ministry in July 2016. For this reason, we are only left to believe that the “consultation” on the 25th June, given with two days notice, was a political attempt to “save face”, at worst  and/or to hustle in some Student talking points for the Minutes in the Task Force, at best.

2. The Student Body Was Not Involved

Perhaps the conditions of confidentiality that accompany Government advisory committees confined Makes Peters to a tight lip on the nature of the report. At the same time, the constitution of the Task Force was fundamentally anti-student. The Task Force included one student representative of the sixteen (16) representatives who constituted it. There is no doubt that Makesi Peters may have felt alone in the negotiations and it is obvious that no student leader would wish that a national issue of this significance and damaging effects would fall on their lap. This, however, does not excuse the meaningful student representation required. ALL Guild Councilors who would have internally discussed GATE could have built a campaign on sensitizing students, shaping public opinion and facilitating greater participation in the articulation of a student position on GATE.

3. Students are also responsible. Not equally. But they are responsible too.

In the 2016 Guild Elections, on a campus that boasts a 90% Trinidad and Tobago student population, GATE should have been the defining issue to hold candidates accountable to. It was not. Moreover, at the “consultation” on the 25th June, the nature of students feedback descended to discussions on them as “abusers” of GATE, evening students versus full time students and ill-informed means-test analyses. The first meeting students should have instituted among themselves is around solidarity and what unites them in this struggle. Then, a candid engagement with the UWI Guild Council, in particular, the Guild President, on what they should anticipate come September. At the “consultation,” the refrain, “we are not at liberty to discuss this right now,” as a mantra to defend the Task Force members from divulging information was insufficient. Students had every right to call representatives to account and demand answers. Establishing the terms of reference for student critique by the terms of reference by a State-led task force is unproductive to our cause.

But the Game is Not Over. They Need Our Help:

1. Fixing the problem of isolation and disunity

The UWI Guild President was isolated on the GATE Task Force. This does not excuse his inaction but it helps create a context to understand the difficult conditions upon which he was sat there. I do not believe that the UWI Guild Council should be the national voice for students. All student guilds should convene a forum among themselves to have a united voice on the “good and bad” recommendations and decisions to be made by the Cabinet. GATE is neither a UWI issue nor any single University issue. It is a national student issue that involves credit facility the state provides for student access to tertiary education. For the reason of developing a national student movement, the National Students Union of Trinidad and Tobago (NSU TT) was established in 2012. UWI Guild Council after council, since, have thrown it aside as a burden to the UWI Guild treasury and irrelevant to local student politics. Now, the Guild must work 24/7 to build cross-campus solidarity and convene a forum that includes councilors and ordinary Guild members (students) equipped to lead in communicating and mobilising students around a common position.

2. Do not “wait on the Report”

We must define and outline our bargaining position before we negotiate any matters related to GATE. Students have the right to express their concerns, feelings, anxieties and hopes about GATE online and offline. It is productive to harness these feelings into a table of informed positions that students have on GATE.

3. Keep Calm and Stay Vigilant.

Already, politically opportunistic youth have emerged from their political graveyards to “take charge” on the matter. Beware of false prophets. Some UNC youth activists have declared openly, “ent, allyuh vote for dat? Red and Ready!” and many PNM youth have put short-term political career ambitions over the national interest. These politically driven sentiments are also rife in the UWI Guild Council.

As University students, it is our duty to develop researched and intelligent positions on national affairs. As we wait on the publication of the report, we can begin to:

a. Develop arguments for the continuity of GATE in the context of an economic recession

b. Articulate a student-led conversation on the abuses of GATE and solutions

c. Until the GATE Task Force (2016) report is published, read the JSC’s Report on GATE (2013) to contextualize the State’s concerns about the programme:
http://www.ttparliament.org/reports/p10-s3-J-20130703-JSC2-R10.pdf

d. Join student community pages, comment and engage the topic. Solidarity is only possible through deeper connections with our comrades in the same condition.

Concerned Student,

Amílcar Sanatan