POLITICAL INFLUENCE AND EXTERNAL
World Bank Loan-One Project
To implement the 15-Year Educational Development Plan, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago sought financial assistance from international organizations such as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (The World Bank), which provided funds in three successive educational loans. During the 1968-83 implementation period, one loan was also received from the Inter-American Development Bank for the construction of vocational and farm schools.
Because of the requirements and the commitments that the Government had to make to the lending agencies, these loans exerted a tremendous influence on the development of the educational system, especially at the secondary level where the loans were concentrated.
The major precursor to these loans and to the formulation of the 15-Year Education Plan was the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) educational planning mission1 which visited Trinidad and Tobago from March to June 1964. One of the principal recommendations in this mission's report was the creation of the Junior Secondary school. It should be noted, however, that the mission advocated the creation of Junior Secondary schools to provide a general education for the "large body of unfortunate childrenwho are retained in the post primary division of the primary schools."
When the idea of the Junior Secondary school was incorporated into the 15-Year Educational Plan, the rationale was to some extent changed to cater to the needs of not just those retained in the post-primary classes, but of the entire 11 to 14 age cohort. It could be argued that this original concept of the Junior Secondary school transferred a stigma of inferiority to these new schools when they were finally constructed. This perception, along with the use of the double shift in the majority of the new schools, could be responsible for the negative attitudes that were entertained about these fledgling institutions.
The UNESCO Mission also recommended the establishment of an educational planning unit and the securing of external assistance for the development of the educational system. The Planning Unit that was established in the Ministry of Education received technical assistance from UNESCO for the formulation of the 15-Year Plan, which provided the basic data for the preparation of the first World Bank loan project. The loan for US$9.4 million was signed in October 1968.
This loan project consisted of the construction and equipment of sixteen Junior Secondary schools, three Senior Comprehensive schools, one Teacher Training College, and the extension and conversion of three existing government secondary schools to Senior Comprehensive schools. Technical assistance provided in the loan included four teacher training specialists and three technical educators.
When the World Bank report on this loan project was completed in 1977, the total amount of the loan was disbursed. Substantial overruns beyond the total project cost were occasioned, however, and completion time exceeded the original estimates.
Very useful lessons were learned from this first implementation of an externally financed educational project by the national government. These experiences are valid for other developing countries such as Trinidad and Tobago.
The building of the schools and other educational institutions in this project constituted the biggest construction operation that the national government had undertaken since independence. The construction industry in the country was strained beyond all expectations. The situation was aggravated by the pressure exerted on the politicians by that mass of people eager to see the dream of a secondary school place for their child come true.
The educational planners learned that a much more careful and comprehensive evaluation of the capacity of a country's construction industry was needed to be able to make reasonably accurate projections of completion dates.
The politicians came to realize that education was one of the benefits of development for which the people had an almost insatiable appetite. In a country where the people felt that they were denied opportunities for secondary education by the colonial government, the national government could not be spared their wrought if election promises for such education were not fulfilled.
The pressure that the people exerted on the politicians forced decisions to be made in which several of the secondary schools were open and used before they were certified as completed. Whereas only seven of the Junior Secondary Schools were completed by September 1972, eleven of them were actually in use in the academic year 1972/73.
These political decisions were to override technical considerations and professional advice. The educational planners in the Ministry of Education were harshly made to understand their role in the whole governmental process. Although they would provide sound technical or professional advice, the political directorate had the prerogative and privilege of making the decisions. The exercise of this political prerogative was best exemplified in the 1975 decisions made by the Cabinet on proposals2 by the Prime Minister.
In response to the mounting pressure from people seeking secondary education for their children, especially the 10,240 expected to leave the Junior Secondary schools in September 1976, the Cabinet, under Prime Minister Williams, made some major decisions on the implementation of the 15-Year Plan, and gave new directions for the growth of the secondary school system.
The decision with the most far-reaching implications was that the norm for post-primary education be a period of five years. The original plan had envisaged that only 37 percent of the graduates of the Junior Secondary schools would move into the Senior Secondary school. It was decided, however, that the three-year Junior Secondary School program would remain "an integral part of the Educational Plan." The 15-Year Plan's original stipulation about the provision of specialized craft training within the Senior Comprehensive schools was maintained.
The accelerated school building program that was needed to complete the Senior Secondary schools had serious financial implications that did not escape the attention of the Cabinet. Consultations had to take place between the government and the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for the purpose of negotiating changes in the loan projects to accommodate these Cabinet decisions. The idea of approaching bilateral institutions such as the Ex-Im Bank for possible loan finance was contemplated. Moreover, because of the sound financial situation that the government was enjoying from high oil prices, it was proposed that funds be advanced for the accelerated building program from a Petroleum Development Fund that the Government had instituted. Consideration was to be given to the use of pre-engineered and pre-fabricated systems for the acceleration of the construction of the schools.
Although the 15-Year Plan makes little reference to the denominational organizations in the provision of education in the country, their role in the history of the development of education in the country cannot be denied. In the 1975 Cabinet decision, the part that the denominations were to play in education was clearly established, and a Church-State partnership was unequivocally designated. "That the denominational organizations be accepted as having a critical and important role in the educational system, particularly at the secondary level. The denominational participation should be based on the rejection of the old formula of cost sharing, with the public sector assuming full responsibility for all costs of education structured along the lines of the national model."3
This political decision by the PNM to institute a working alliance with the religious denominations for the provision and maintenance of schools was no doubt motivated by the increasing demand for secondary school places which the PNM had promised to satisfy in its own election campaigning. This pressure forced the formation of a coalition between what had previously been very estranged entities. But this dual control or State-Church partnership in education was reaffirmed as a healthy characteristic of the educational system of the country and seems destined to last forever.
Yielding to the pressure for secondary places caused these new Junior Secondary schools to be put on a double shift. Similarly, in line with the government's decision to accept all Junior Secondary school students into Senior Secondary schools of the comprehensive type, the two new Senior Secondary schools constructed in this First World Bank project had to admit twice the amount of students they had originally planned for. The frantic rush to complete the construction of these new Junior and Senior Secondary schools may have invited the temptation "to cut corners," but the supervision exercised by the World Bank ensured that the buildings were completed to agreed specifications.
The lesson learned from this experience was particularly pertinent to the educational planning process. Whereas the technicians and professionals in the Ministry of Education might have been dismayed by the difficulties and delays in negotiating the World Bank loan, they had to be thankful for the insistence by the Bank officials that the construction specifications and the educational requirements be faithfully respected. Decisions for political expediency were accordingly kept to a minimum.
One may have to accept the reality that in developing countries, especially in early stages of independence, the final considerations in the decision-making process are inevitably at the political level. The technician or professional has a responsibility to advise or plan and design programs to the best of his/her ability, but it is the politician who has the authority to make the decision. At best, the technician should make the politician aware of the implications of the decision made or to be made. This lesson was definitely learned in the execution of this first World Bank loan project in the implementation of the 15-Year Educational Development Plan.
World Bank Loan-Two Project
The second World Bank Loan project, like the first, was designed to assist in the reconstruction of the educational system, especially at the secondary level. A loan of US$9.3 million out of total project costs of US$19.73 million was signed in October 1972. The project, which aimed to expand secondary education in all of its components, emphasized the development of pre-vocational and technical courses in the Senior Comprehensive Schools. This loan project was also conceived out of the growing concern that graduates from the existing secondary schools were finding it difficult to secure employment, while a shortage of technicians persisted. The emphasis on the pre-vocational and technical component and character of secondary education in the country was considered fundamental for making education more relevant to the needs of the economy and the society at large. The search for relevance continued. The project included six Junior Secondary, four Combined Junior/Secondary or Composite schools, three Senior Comprehensive, one Teacher training college, one Technical Institute, one Farmer Training Center and a technical assistance program of specialists and fellowships.
Much discussion and negotiation had to take place between the World Bank officials and Trinidad and Tobago Government authorities to adjust the loan project to accommodate the accelerated building program necessitated by the Cabinet's decision to extend the norm for secondary education from three to five years and the anxiety of the people for secondary school places. In the end, however, the project was substantially completed as originally agreed, although the total cost was almost doubled.
By the time the second World Bank Education Loan Project was completed in 1979, the implementation of the 15-Year Education Plan was substantially advanced. However, significant problems in the reconstructed educational system, especially at the secondary level, were beginning to show. Some were destined to have a lasting effect on the efficiency of the new system.
The problem that most assiduously taxed the minds of the officials of the Ministry of Education and the consciences of the politicians, and drew the most anxious criticisms from the populace was the use of the double shift.
The proposals4 that Prime Minister Williams had presented to the Cabinet in September 1975 to deal with some of the major problems faced in the implementation of the 15-Year Plan, left the consideration of other matters such as the shift system pending. Even when the Prime Minister prepared his "Further Proposals to Cabinet on Education"5 in October 1975, it seemed that the shift system was too problematic and controversial to elicit specific recommendations. It was therefore proposed that a special committee be appointed to consider the use of the double shift in secondary schools. In spite of the political advantage in doubling the enrollment capacity of the schools involved, the double shift drew intense criticism from the reduction of the individual student's daily timetable from about 51/2 hours to about 41/2 hours. While initially welcoming the availability of secondary school places for their children, parents soon began to complain about the reduced teaching time in the double shift schools when compared with the other secondary schools to which other more "fortunate" students who "passed" the same Common Entrance Exam were sent.
Since the students going to these schools were drawn from large catchment areas, serious transportation problems were created. For many students this meant a lengthened work day with resultant fatigue and stress which militated considerably against good school performance. The most serious criticism levelled at the double shift was that severe social and family problems were arising from the long unsupervised hours of the children attending either the morning or afternoon sessions. The Cabinet Committee,6 which was appointed in 1975 to consider measures to alleviate problems of the Shift System at schools, expressed concern that unsupervised children may be either deliberately or otherwise involved in a variety of anti-social behaviors, resulting in the increasing incidence of delinquencies. This Cabinet Committee made several recommendations to deal with the problems occasioned by the use of the double shift in some secondary schools, the most fundamental being that as a transitional measure the Overlap System should be introduced with the ultimate aim of providing a single shift for all secondary school children.
Because of the continuing demand for secondary school places, it was obvious that the Government could not abandon the double shift system. The Overlap System was not introduced, because like the double shift, it would leave children with unsupervised time and its resulting social problems. With the Overlap system, the first group of children would start school at 8 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. while the second would attend school from 10 am to 4:30 p.m. The government increasingly voiced the policy that the double shift was only a temporary measure.
To meet the concerns of parents regarding the possible delinquent and anti-social behavior of their teenagers during their unsupervised time, the Committee made a very enlightened proposal for a Complementary Education Program7 to occupy the minds and bodies of students during the off-shift period of the day.
The use of double shift in the new Junior Secondary schools continued to be a controversial issue in the implementation of the 15-Year Plan, but due to the critical political implications of any deviation from the Plan, the government delayed putting into effect the major recommendations of this 1975 Cabinet Committee on the double shift. It seemed they were hoping that with the high price of oil in the world market, the financial fortunes of the country would continue to soar, so that ultimately free secondary school places on single shift could be provided for all those leaving the primary level.
One finds that the country had to wait until 1990 for another such committee to be appointed; this time, by the new government under the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) which defeated the PNM in the 1986 general elections. The Report of the National Advisory Committee8 on the off-shift session in the Junior Secondary schools stated that the problems identified in the 1975 Report continued to persist and that the wise use of time continued to be the most serious problem facing students on the off-shift period.
The principal recommendation of this Committee was the creation of Partnerships among Adults, Children and Teachers (PACT) to develop and manage programs of out-of-school activities linked to the schools' curriculum for students during the off-shift session. By the time the NAR government ended its term of office in 1991, no major recommendations of this committee had been implemented.
With the decline in oil prices around the 1980s, and the realization that it would be political suicide to renege on a policy of free secondary education, the double shift system seemed destined to remain for some time.
In the election campaign manifestoes of both the PNM and NAR, the two contending political parties in the 1986 general elections, the issue of the double shift received scant mention. The NAR9 manifesto merely stated that it would establish a Special Education Task Force that would report on, among other matters, "the shift system in the Junior Secondary School" in a specific time. Among the pledges expressed in its Manifesto,10 the PNM vowed to continue to work toward the elimination of the shift system.
Another major problem that had achieved acute proportions by the end of the Second World Bank Loan projectand was in some way associated with the double shiftwas teacher absenteeism. World Bank reports on the second loan project indicated that high teacher absenteeism was adversely affecting standards in the Junior Secondary schools. This disturbing incidence of absenteeism was reported to be reaching an average of 10 percent or more in a typical working day. It was felt that the main reason for such absenteeism was the burdensome teaching load of the teachers in these new schools and the government regulation that allowed teachers 28 days of absence for private reasons during the school year.
Although not indicated in the World Bank reports, one could surmise that since teachers in double shift schools were not occupied in teaching during a large part of the day, they found other forms of employment during their free time to supplement their relatively small teaching salaries. Invariably, these forms of employment like taxi-driving or selling insurance kept them from school even during their scheduled teaching hours.
World Bank Loan-Three Project
To complete the financing of the implementation of 15-Year Educational Development Plan (1960-1983), the government of Trinidad and Tobago secured a third loan from the World Bank. This loan, which was signed in July 1979, had an original completion date of December 1983the termination point of the 15-Year Plan.
This loan was intended mainly to help the government expand access to schooling and equalize educational opportunity as envisaged in the 15-Year Plan. At the secondary school level, the loan included two Junior secondary schools and extensions to six senior and two composite (junior/senior) secondary schools. Total project cost was estimated at US$54.6 million, of which the loan would provide US$20 million.
The greatest percentage of the two previous World Bank loans and the project as a whole was devoted to the construction of new school buildings and extensions. Although the 15-Year Plan was conceived and formulated to improve quality as well as increase the availability of secondary school places, decisions made at the political level regarding allocations of funds and priorities in the implementation process were influenced more by concerns for quantitative increases rather than qualitative improvements in the secondary school system. The politicians were more preoccupied with increasing the number of secondary schools since school places meant votes in elections. For every child who survived the dreaded Common Entrance exam and entered a secondary school, there would be his or her parents and relatives ever grateful and willing to support the politician with their votes.
The professional staff in the Ministry of Education and the World Bank officials never failed to stress the need to improve quality and relevance of the new education system, however. The main components of this Third World Bank loan, which were included with the specific aim of improving quality and relevance, were the establishment of a National Curriculum and Teacher Development Center and a Regional Teacher Development Center.
Unlike the first and second World Bank loans, in which loan funds were disbursed in their totality, this loan, which was approved for US$20 million, had achieved only about 10 percent disbursement when it was terminated in December 1983. The unspent sum of US$18 million had to be cancelled. The amount disbursed for this loan was expended mainly in project management services and minor civil works. In the overall project, the government of Trinidad and Tobago had to finance the greatest part out of its own revenue. Only the two extensions to composite secondary schools were actually completed out of the total of 39 project institutions originally envisioned.
This Third World Bank loan and the final phase of the implementation of the 15-Year Plan ran into problems that the earlier stages and the first two loans did not experience. The problems were created mainly by the changing economic conditions in the country. Between the time that the Third World Bank Educational Project loan was prepared around 1978 and the time it was scheduled to be completed in 1983, drastic changes were to take place in the economic fortunes of the country.
Oil production and refining continued to be the mainstay of the economy. The high oil prices of the 1970s brought unprecedented wealth to the country and lifted the confidence of the government to the extent that it was prepared to finance much of the proposed development out of its own revenue. Public, current and capital expenditure rose significantly during this period. Public investment projects in a number of sectors of the economy grew so dramatically that they attained rates of 70 percent of total investment and 20 percent of Gross National Product.
Around 1978, the year in which the Third World Bank Educational Project was prepared, the oil industry in Trinidad and Tobagoproduction, refinement and its related activitiesreached its peak. The country never had it so good, and Prime Minister Dr. Williams is alleged to have boasted that "money is no problem."
This unexpected windfall for which the young nation had no experience or preparation came with both advantages and disadvantages. Whereas funds were available for the government to finance urgently needed and long-awaited development projects, the rush to get these projects started created significant problems in management.
This Third World Bank loan was the victim of those circumstances. Whereas the first and second loans were well prepared and negotiated, this third loan, in spite of the experience that the government and the World Bank should have now acquired from their interaction and negotiations for the first two loans, suffered from significant deficiencies among which was the absence of reliable estimates of costs. The actual cost of this project when it was completed in 1983 was US$187 million as compared with an original estimate of US$54 million at the time of signing. The haste to get documentation prepared, the excessive workload of the government officials and the unrealistic number of projects being undertaken simultaneously by the government resulted in very careless project preparation. Substantial cost overruns and delays were common among projects undertaken in the late 1970s, even in the government's priority energy and petro-chemical projects.
The sharp decline in the oil prices in the early 1980s, however, and the gradual decrease in domestic oil production drastically reduced government revenues and its ability to finance public-sector projects like the educational development plan. High inflation rates exacerbated the situation and resulted in project initiation dates not being met. The delays further increased cost over-runs.
The promises made to the people thirsting for free secondary educationnow for five rather than three years as originally plannedhad to be attended to by the politicians. Prime Minister Williams, recognizing the importance of the educational programs to the political survival of his party and because of his own expressed faith in the value of education for developing the new society he conceived for Trinidad and Tobago, continued to assume leadership and exercised close supervision over the implementation of the 15-Year Plan and of his Proposals and Further Proposals to Cabinet.
His personal administrative style, however, added another dimension to the problems that beset this stage of the implementation of the Educational Plan in the third World Bank loan. His reliance on a few selected personsofficial and ministerialpresumably to increase efficiency in decision-making and execution, resulted in excessive delays and imprecise accountability. It can be argued that the power with which Dr. Williams endowed the chosen few from among officials and ministers eventually led to mismanagement and even corruption in his government. One of his trusted ministers was involved in "kickback schemes" involving millions of dollars, and the police of Trinidad and Tobago issued a warrant for that Minister's arrest in 1983.
After Dr. Williams died in 1981, this minister fled to Canada in 1982, where his son agreed to repay the government of Trinidad and Tobago a total of $4 million Canadian dollars in settlement of a court action after his father's death in March 1985.
The undisbursed amount of $18 million of the World Bank Loan was finally cancelled at the loan completion date in 1983. Blame for this regrettable situation could be attributed to both the government of Trinidad and Tobago and the World Bank, but prevailing circumstances, particularly the unforeseen severe drop in oil prices, were the main contributing factors.
Assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank
Other than the World Bank, the main source of external assistance for financing the implementation of the 15-Year Plan was the Inter- American Development Bank, to which Trinidad and Tobago secured membership after joining the Organization of American States in 1967.
The IDB loan, which was approved in 1972 for US$9.4 million, was intended to assist the expansion and improvement of the technical-vocational sector of the educational system. The loan project was comprised of the construction and equipment of seven secondary technical-vocational schools, a technical-vocational teacher training center and three secondary agricultural schools, in addition to the expansion of the existing Pt. Fortin vocational center.
Another IDB loan, which was also approved in 1972 for $3.7 million, was to assist the government in setting up a Student Revolving Loan Fund to help students in university training. Of the total loan amount, 42 percent was disbursed and the rest had to be cancelled at the expiration date in November 1978. It was said that the loan was cancelled because of insufficient demand due to alternative sources of financing during the oil boom which brought unprecedented revenue to the government. Scholarships financed by public funds were offered to students in a wide variety of developmental fields.
The real reason the Vocational Education Loan was cancelled was the government's decision to provide technical-vocational education within the Senior Comprehensive schools instead of separate vocational schools.
1. UNESCO, Educational Planning Mission-Trinidad and Tobago (Paris: France, 1964).
2. Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister's Proposals to Cabinet on Education (Trinidad and Tobago: Government Printery, 1975).
3. Government of Trinidad and Tobago 11.
4. Government of Trinidad and Tobago 11.
5. Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister's Further Proposals to Cabinet on Education (Trinidad and Tobago: Government Printery, 1975).
6. Government of Trinidad and Tobago, Report of the Cabinet Appointed Committee to consider measures to alleviate problems of the Shift System at Schools (Port of Spain: n.p., 1975).
7. The Program was very similar to the Teacher-Aide proposal that the author himself has designed and submitted to the Ministry of Education in 1975 and again in 1982.
8. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, National Advisory Committee, Report on Junior Secondary Schools Proposals for the Off-shift Session (Trinidad and Tobago: n.p., 1990).
9. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Manifesto of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad and Tobago Publishing Company Ltd., 1986).
10. PNM, General Election Manifesto, (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad and Tobago Printing and Packaging Ltd., 1986.