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Education Project

Denis Solomon • 993 words

"Project" in the title is a punning reference to the (Prime Minister's Special Works) Project, now called the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP). I don't know whether the Ministry of Education's Schools Broadcasting Unit is recruited along with the URP gangs, but it might as well be. As a purveyor of false information, bad English and clumsiness of expression it is unrivalled.

On 23 May and 13 June last year I wrote articles in the Independent pointing out the gross errors and infelicities in the published texts of two of the SBU’s programmes. They were intended to promote national consciousness. The first was entitled “Our National Emblems” and the second attempted to instil patriotism by the use of some Sparrow calypsoes.

The Express of May 6 this year carried the text of a SBU broadcast on the theme “national awareness”. Obviously the person or persons preparing it went to the archives, pulled out the two broadcasts from last year and combined them. The result contains all the errors and crudities of both the earlier ones, and adds some of its own.

“Our national emblems found on the National Coat of Arms are in the form of a shield which is regarded as a sign of protection”.

The national emblems are not in the form of a shield. They are in the form of a Coat of Arms, of which the shield is a part.

The shield is not “regarded as a sign of protection” (if it were, whom would it be protecting, and from what?). A shield was a mediaeval knight’s ID card – a background for the emblems, not an emblem in itself.

There should be a comma before the word “which”. Without the comma, the following clause is a limiting relative clause, when it should be a commenting one. For those who are as ignorant as the staff of the Ministry of Education, the difference is the difference between “pilots who take chances don’t live long” and “pilots, who take chances, don’t live long”.

“The three ships on the shield represent Columbus’ fleet of the Santa Maria, Nina (sic) and Pinta when he discovered the island in 1498”.

The three ships with which Columbus came to Trinidad in 1498 were not the Santa Maria, the Nina (with or without the tilde) and the Pinta. Those were the ones he had on his first voyage in 1492.

Which island is referred to by the phrase “the island”?

Columbus did not “discover” Trinidad and Tobago. They were not lost or hidden. The world has long rejected the idea of people discovering other people. In Latin America the year 1992 was celebrated as the five hundredth anniversary not of the “Discovery of America” but of the “Meeting of Two Worlds”. At the time there was even controversy over whether we should keep the ships on the Coat of Arms. Apart from its ignorance of facts, the Ministry of Education is ignorant of intellectual trends in the world and our own society.

“The humming birds have been included for sentimental reasons”.

This is meaningless.

“It’s said that more species of humming birds are found in Trinidad and Tobago than any other country in the world...”

You don’t put scientific facts before children in the form of rumours. If there are more species of humming-bird in this country than any other, check the fact and say so.

A humming bird is a bird that hums. The species is called humming-bird or hummingbird.

“...and that the early inhabitants of Trinidad called Trinidad Iere or Caire which means the land of the humming bird”.

In Carib the word “iere” (in one mainland Carib dialect “kairi”) simply means “island”. It is true that this statement is hedged by “it is said”, but there should also be an indication that it is simply a poetic myth.

Grammatically, the statement represents a slight improvement over last year’s text. There, the sentence read “early inhabitants called here Iere or Caire...”. This is an abomination. The adverb “here” cannot be used as the object of a verb in English. I don’t know whether the compiler of this year’s programme realised this (on the evidence, I doubt it) or whether he or she simply realised that Tobago wasn’t included in the myth.

The inclusion of “Trinidad” in place of “here”, however, makes for an ugly repetition. This is the point at which “the island” would have been justifiable.

The relative clause following “Caire” is also a commenting one, and should be preceded by a comma.

“Iere” and “Caire” should be in inverted commas.

Referring to the Trinity Hills, the programme says “The water surrounding the peaks represents the cradle of our heritage – the trough which forms the islands of Trinidad and Tobago”.

If anyone can figure out what this means I should be grateful if they would write and tell me.

The first of the earlier programmes contained the sentences “it is hoped that our pupils would understand the significance...) and “it is also hoped an attitude toward nation-building would be cultivated”.

These are examples of the entirely incorrect but seemingly ineradicable Trinidadian and Tobagonian use of “would” for “will”. In the second programme, (as a result, I like to think, of my article) “would” was deleted and “may” was substituted. In other words, being told what is wrong is not the same thing as knowing what is right. This year’s programme, however, revives the incorrect “would”. It also adds a grammatical mistake of its own in the phrase “cultural activities as (sic) choral and verse speaking”.

Finally, having offended against history, grammar and style, the programme offends against taste with an awful song, clumsily titled “You Independent Sons and Daughters”, by a certain Hyacinth Simmons. Its scansion is non-existent, its rhymes contrived and infantile, and its images trite. The programme concludes with a eulogistic biography of the author, in which the only encouraging item, from the educational point of view, is that she is dead.

Copyright © • Denis Solomon • Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association • www.humanist.org.tt/humanist/forum/solomonPage Top