Trinidad and Tobago is an independent nation that is comprised of the two islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In many ways it is typical of the countries of the Caribbean or West Indies. The West Indies are the islands stretching between Florida at the southern tip of the United States of America and the northern coast of South America. These islands are located in a body of water known as the Caribbean Sea, and the islands are often referred to as the Caribbean Islands.

In addition to the islands, the two mainland territories of Guyana in South America and Belize in Central America are generally considered part of the West Indies. These two territories and the English-speaking West Indian islands form the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Most of the islands and territories of the West Indies are now independent states; however, a few are still colonies of a European nation, and some enjoy a special association with their former colonial masters.

Amerindian peoples were the original inhabitants of the islands, and a large portion of the present population of the West Indies have descended from other non-European peoples. Apart from the languages of the original Amerindian people, the languages spoken in the West Indies are derived from those of the European nations that colonized and governed them at one time. The Amerindians have almost completely disappeared as a race in the West Indies, however, and the languages of other non-European inhabitants have been subjugated to the dominant European languages. In addition to a standard form of a European language, Creole dialects or versions of the European language flourish in nearly every country of the West Indies.

The West Indian people are composed of several races; the majority of which have descended from people of Africa, and the second largest ethnic group have descended from India. Europeans, Chinese and other east Asian races also contribute to the West Indian population. The culture of inhabitants of the West Indies who originated from non- European countries has been subjugated, to varying degrees, to the European culture. This European cultural dominance in the Caribbean is manifested in the peculiar educational structure of the area. Even though Europeans, or descendants of Europeans, make up a small minority of the population of most territories in the Caribbean, the educational system in all of the countries is fundamentally western European.

The two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is situated off the eastern coast of Venezuela, and covers an area of about 1,980 square miles. In 1992, its cross-cultural population was estimated at 1,250,000 people, the majority of which were of African and East Indian descent. People of European descent formed only about one percent of the population. It can be said that the country has achieved a remarkable level of racial integration. A large percentage of the people are of mixed blood.

In Trinidad and Tobago, English is the official language spoken, although a Creole version of English is widely used. The language of instruction in schools is the standard form of English and in 1992, literacy was estimated at about 96.1 percent. Not only is the country multi-racial, but it is also highly multireligious. Both Christian and non-Christian religions abound.

The original inhabitants were Amerindians, mainly Arawaks (Tainos). Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, was the first among a succession of European adventurers and colonizers to come to Trinidad and Tobago. During the colonization period, people were transported from Africa to work in the plantations, and with the abolition of slavery, workers were brought from India under a system of indenturing. Other Asians and some Europeans were also brought to Trinidad and Tobago to provide labor during the early period of its colonization.

Trinidad and Tobago gained its independence from Britain in 1962. The country was first colonized by the Spaniards on whose behalf Columbus had launched his expeditions to the West Indies. Although Trinidad was never governed by the French, the Spanish government on the island allowed planters from the French islands to the north to settle and develop the country from about 1777.1 The effect of French occupation is seen in the names of places and to a smaller extent in the laws of the country. Vestiges of this early French colonization can be found in English Creole currently used by the people. Tobago differs from Trinidad mainly in the absence of this French colonization.

The prevailing culture is essentially Western European, but Trinidad and Tobago is increasingly feeling the influence of the powerful North American culture, while traces of Amerindian colonization are very minimal. The influence of African and Indian culture is very marked in present society. The descendants of indentured Indian laborers have been able to maintain their religious practices.

As in most countries that are colonies or former colonies of an European nation, Trinidad and Tobago has an education system that bears a distinct resemblance to that of the mother country. One of the examinations taken by secondary school students in Trinidad and Tobago at the end of their school career is the General Certificate of Education Examinations set and marked by examination syndicates in the United Kingdom.

The subjection of nationals to crucial examinations by foreign agencies is but one of the many features that Trinidad and Tobago has in common with many developing countries. The fact that Trinidad and Tobago continues to be influenced by a European model of education rather than develop their own local or national system is very typical of developing countries. The colonial government based their education on the educational experiences of the United Kingdom. Even after independence, however, education in Trinidad and Tobago continued to develop along the lines of the United Kingdom's system.

The early history of education in Trinidad and Tobago illustrates the colonial government's attitude toward education in a colony. Although education for the various racial or ethnic groups was considered one system at the time, the history of educational development among these groups shows significant differences.


1. G. Moron, A History of Venezuela (London: Allen and Unwin, 1964) 82.