The 1985-1990 Plan

In 1986, when general elections took place for the sixth time since independence, the 15-Year Plan for Educational Development 1968-1983 had completed its execution period. The Ministry of Education developed a new plan for 1985-90 that was based on the results of an assessment of the execution of the 15-Year Plan. This new plan was not to see the light of day, however, because the 1986 elections brought in a new government to run the affairs of the country. After a quarter of a century of PNM rule, the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) took over the reins of government in December 1986.

Education, especially its expansion at the secondary level, had always been a major activity and vote catcher of the PNM government under Dr. Eric Williams, even after his death in 1981. One would have surmised that the execution of the 15-Year Plan, especially in the unprecedented provision of secondary school places, would have guaranteed a victory for the ruling government. History does not always follow logic, however, and in any case, people seemed bent on having a change.

The PNM was defeated in the elections by the NAR, resulting in a change in government that had distinct implications for the development of education. The momentum in educational development that was initiated from the first term of office of PNM continued up to its final hour. After a short hiatus following the termination of the implementation period of the 15-Year Plan, a new plan was formulated for the period 1985-1990.

As in the 15-Year Plan, the new plan focused on the secondary level of education. In its preface, the 1985-1990 Plan defined the major elements of the context in which the Plan was being formulated. It emphasized that the "favorable economic climate that supported the tremendous expansion in secondary school provision in the late 1970s and early 80s has come to an end."1 Although the economic climate had changed drastically from the oil boom days of the 1970s, the people's thirst for education, especially the secondary level, had not abated. This was duly recognized in the new Plan, and among other things it set out to "undertake the necessary secondary school building program to ensure that the whole 14+ age cohort of the Junior Secondary School is adequately accommodated at the upper level of the secondary school program."2

It was understood, however, that the provision of the two years in Senior Secondary education for all students completing Junior Secondary would not fully meet the popular demand for secondary education for all. The Plan resorted to post-primary centers to cater for the secondary educational needs of those primary school students who did not get a place in secondary schools on the basis of the results of the Common Entrance. The Plan proposed to establish "post-primary centers in a number of centrally located schools to cater more adequately for the needs of the 20 percent of the 11+ age group who are not at present being placed in the secondary school system."3

When this new Plan was being formulated, students who had entered the new Junior Secondary Schools and continued on to the Senior Secondary level would have been taking the external examinations—the General Certificate of Education (GCE) and the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). The results of these examinations were a cause for concern by the drafters of the Plan. It should be remembered that these students were the ones whose scores on the Common Entrance Examination were not high enough to secure them a place in the better government secondary schools or the prestige schools. Judging by their scores on the Common Entrance Exams, they should not have been expected to do well in the secondary school external examinations.

Performance on the external examinations, therefore, became a major focus of this Plan. Accordingly, a proposal was made for a new National Certificate of Secondary Education. The proposal did not contain specifics about the examination, but merely gave some indication of its purpose and tried to dispel, in regrettably confusing language, the notion that examination results should not be the final judgement on students. "It is necessary to emphasize here that the external examination at the end of the five year of secondary education does not place an indelible stamp on the student."4

The other outstanding proposal in the Plan also pertained to examinations, and although it did not strictly fall within the secondary school system, it had direct implications. In dealing with the primary level of education, the Plan proposed to "institute a system of promotion based on attainment of minimum levels of achievements in all basic subjects to replace the present system of promotion by age."5 This system would include the setting of minimum attainment goals for all basic subjects at all levels of the primary school and the development of appropriate tests or exams.

Examinations and certification seemed to be of concern to the drafters of this Plan. The preamble stressed the importance of meaningful certification and a system of evaluation. One could only speculate that the planners were inspired or seduced by the claims made by advocates of the "en vogue" competency-based curriculum theory of the time. It is ironical that the planners failed to realize that one of the persisting ailments of the total educational system was the emphasis on examinations. Rather than heighten the importance of passing examinations and tests, educational reform was urgently needed to prepare students for life and not for examinations.

Even more ironical, however, was that in spite of its fascination with exams, the Plan failed to make any specific proposal about the Common Entrance Examination, which continued to be highly controversial among the populace. One would have thought that if the planners saw the need to develop and institute attainment tests at all levels of the primary school, they would have given consideration to using students' records of the scores on these attainment tests to replace or supplement their performance on the tests that make up the Common Entrance examination. The only relevant proposal made was the introduction in 1986 of an essay component into the Common Entrance Examinations.

Other obvious faults in the Plan would lead one to speculate that the plan was hastily drawn up. Notable omissions were any proposals to address the problems of the double shift system and the various types of secondary schools that made up the system. No deficiency stands out more markedly than its treatment of the costs of the Plan. In spite of the recognition in the preface of the Plan that the "favorable economic climate" had come to an end, the section on financial implications is very sketchy with very crude figures and gives the impression that it was hurriedly put together as an afterthought.6 No attempt was made to alert the political decision makers as to the recurrent expenditure, not even a mere estimate of these costs made. Notably absent, too, were the schedules for the phased implementation of the Plan that were so meticulously outlined in the 15-Year Plan.

The 1986 and 1991 Election Manifestoes of the PNM and NAR

The 1985-1990 Plan essentially provided the technical framework for the development of education in the country by consolidating the achievements and pursuing the unmet goals of the 15-Year Education Development Plan. Its presentation to the Cabinet in May 1985 was bound to make it a major source of material for the 1986 election manifesto of the government in power. The December 1986 general elections manifesto of the PNM was the political expression of the 1985-1990 plan.

As is expected in any election manifesto, the 1986 election manifesto of the PNM concentrated on presenting the achievements of the government during its term of office. While the PNM was in power from 1956, its manifesto highlighted the construction of the 80 new secondary schools that were built from 1956 to 1986.

It is to be noted, however, that the first statement in the manifesto laid a claim to success by the PNM in providing equal opportunities in education. "The PNM's emphasis on providing equal educational opportunities for all is nowhere more evident than in the educational opportunities which have been provided in this country."7 This claim betrays the erroneous notion that merely increasing the number of school places available to students is tantamount to equalizing opportunities. No awareness is shown of the other crucial factors like socio-economic status, family background, the different types of secondary schools, and accessibility to the prestige schools, factors that must seriously be addressed to ensure equality of opportunity in education, especially at the secondary school level.

High on the list of achievements presented in the manifesto is the preservation of the system of dual control. No issue in education received such extensive attention as the State-Church relationship in that manifesto. The Concordat that was signed between the government and the denominational bodies had been working so well that the government was convinced that highlighting this success would be a great attraction for voters. Notwithstanding its vote-catching capacity, it cannot be denied that the partnership between the State and the Church has been one of the outstanding characteristics of the educational system of Trinidad and Tobago. The government under the PNM had been constantly striving to improve that relationship and reached a high point in 1978 when 100 percent public financing was provided for all reconstruction work at schools offered by the Boards and accepted by the State.

According to the manifesto, in addition to the construction of schools and the State-Church partnership, the other major "achievement" in the area of secondary education was the double shift system. The treatment of the shift system in the manifesto was not only brief but seemingly apologetic. "In keeping with PNM's commitment to deshift, all schools built during the last ten years are single shift five-year facilities."8 This was a tacit but honest recognition by government that the double shift system would not be immediately terminated. Among its pledges in the manifesto, the PNM promised "to continue to work towards the elimination of the shift system."9

As would be expected, the manifesto of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), the other contestant in the 1986 general elections, contained more ideas for future development of education than that of the ruling government. Since the NAR was never in power, it had no achievements to put before the people. It could only criticize the performance of the PNM or present its own ideas for the development of education. To its credit, it adopted the latter approach and its manifesto is replete with sound proposals for improving education in the country.

Recognizing that one of the persisting concerns of people was the shortage of secondary school places, the NAR gave high priority to the use of under-utilized space in school buildings. In view of the high cost of construction, especially of the new Junior and Senior Secondary schools, the greater utilization of existing secondary school places was a very enlightened and opportune proposal. The manifesto stressed that most of the buildings that house the Junior, Secondary, Comprehensive, Composite or traditional schools were not used in the evenings or during the long holidays.10 It was therefore proposed in the manifesto, although in a somewhat imprecise fashion, that every senior comprehensive school be used as a center for continuing education, and a special vice principal was to be appointed in each of these schools as its administrator.

Following a well-established tradition, the NAR also proposed to set up a "committee" to address the major problems it identified in education. The three issues selected for attention by the Education Task Force proposed in the manifesto revealed a sound understanding of the outstanding problems in education in the country. The replacement of the Common Entrance Examination, the shift system in the Junior Secondary schools and the zoning of schools were matters that no responsible government could avoid.

The NAR showed great awareness of the need to address matters like textbooks, counselling and guidance, and medical and dental care to ensure that all children made full use of the educational opportunities they received. It did not lose sight of the fact that there were many other factors to be considered beyond the mere provision of school places in the road towards equality of opportunity in the educational system. Like the PNM, the NAR did not fail to recognize the positive role played by the Church in the educational system.

The NAR proposed several innovations, including the establishment of a children's television studio, a College of the Air, a Book Trust and an Educational Development and Learning Resource Center. What distinguished the NAR manifesto regarding secondary schools from that of the PNM's was the establishment of the Community College. This institution was to be called the Community College of the University of the West Indies, and would provide a range of educational offerings for both the conventional secondary school and university levels. Buildings of the Corinth and Valsayn Teachers Colleges that were supposed to be closed down by the government, were to be used.

Victory at the polls in 1986 gave the NAR five years in which to attempt the implementation of these proposals. By 1991, the country's next general election, the Minister of Education was able to produce a document which recorded the fulfillment of the promises made by the NAR government in its 1986 manifesto. In this report, "Achievements of the Ministry of Education 1987-1991 in Relation to the NAR Manifesto,"11 the government in power was able to show how it endeavored to address all the issues listed in the 1986 manifesto. The report formed the basis for the education section of the 1991 manifesto of the NAR when it faced the PNM at the polls for a second time.

A comparison of the 1986 and 1991 manifestoes of the NAR, however, would reveal that although some attempt had been made to solve the problems and fulfill promises made in 1986, much remained to be done. The 1991 NAR12 manifesto included reviews of the ever perplexing Common Entrance Examination and the shift system among the list of projects which the government initiated but which would have to be continued.

During the 1986-1991 period, the first change of government since independence, some major problems remained unresolved at the secondary school level. Because of financial constraints, the steady increase in secondary school places that marked the PNM era almost came to a halt. The NAR government resorted to the use of under-utilized spaces to expand educational provisions at the secondary school level. It could be argued that by recognizing its inability to undertake major physical expansion of the secondary school system, the government directed its attention to qualitative improvements. However, even in this area not a great deal was accomplished during the five years. One activity that was initiated to improve the quality of secondary education was the establishment of the Educational Development and Learning Resource Center, which was designed to promote curriculum evaluation and renovation, train teachers and revise technical-vocational curricula in secondary schools. This Center was constructed with funds from a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. This loan for US$60 million constituted the major source of external funding for education during the NAR reign. In addition to establishing the educational resource center, it included projects for curriculum revision and for school library improvement services to enhance the quality of education at the secondary level.

The NAR government put great effort into laying the groundwork for the establishment of a Community College. Plans were finalized, legislation prepared and an implementation committee set up for the start of operation of the College.

The PNM's manifesto was not substantially different from that of the NAR's 1981 manifesto. The PNM's manifesto promised to review the Common Entrance Examination, revise curricula and preserve State-Church partnership. Although no mention was made of creating a community college—as proposed by the NAR—the 1991 PNM manifesto promised to establish a "system of continuing education"13 which would be interpreted to have the same intentions as the Community College proposal.

The similarities that existed in the 1991 manifestoes of both parties should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands education as a sector of the society. A comparison of the manifestoes of the two contending governments would reveal how inevitably slow and evolutionary the process of growth of an educational system is. Planners and politicians alike should not fail to realize that as an investment, education has a relatively long gestation period. The targeted results of benefits expected from reforms cannot be realized overnight. It is not easy to make drastic changes in this reform process once it has been initiated.

The reconstruction of the educational system that started with the implementation of the 1968-1983 15-Year Education Plan was still running its course after the termination date of that plan. When the NAR came into power in 1986, it found itself locked into a path of growth of the educational system from which it could not easily deviate. It would have been grossly irresponsible and unbearably costly to arrest and reverse that process. In spite of declarations in its manifesto to undertake substantial reform,14 the NAR instituted very little real change in education during its five-year reign. This is the nature of the "matter" that is education and an illustration of the peculiar relationship between education and politics, particularly in developing countries as the political leaders strive to satisfy the yearnings of the people for education generated by their political achievements.

Whether it cared to admit or not, the NAR government came to realize that it had no alternative but to build on the foundation and continue on the road of educational development that the PNM had marked out with its 15-Year Education Plan. The NAR promised the people a new educational plan for 1992-1995, but the people rejected that offer at the 1991 elections. There was another change of government.


1. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Ministry of Education, Education Plan 1985-1990 (Draft for Cabinet) (Trinidad and Tobago: N.p., 1985) 7.

2. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 12.

3. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 12.

4. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 150.

5. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 25.

6. Indeed, an earlier edition of the plan did not contain any section on financial implications. The author brought this omission to the attention of the Minister of Education in his comments about the plan.

7. People's National Movement (PNM), General Election Manifesto 1986 (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad and Tobago Printing and Packaging Ltd) n.d.8. People's National Movement 14.

9. People's National Movement 159.

10. National Alliance for Reconstruction, Manifesto of the Natural Alliance for Reconstruction (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad Publishing Co. Ltd.) 1986.

11. The National Alliance for Reconstruction, "Together to a Brighter Tomorrow," General Election Manifesto. (Trinidad and Tobago: Scrip-J Printers) 1991.

12. Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Achievements of the Ministry of Education 1987-1991 in Relation to the 1986 NAR Manifesto, (Trinidad and Tobago: Printing Unit, Ministry of Education) 1991.

13. People's National Movement, "We Care about You," Manifesto (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad Publishing Co. Ltd.) 1991.

14. People's National Movement, "The Role, Content, Philosophy and Goals of our Educational System will be Thoroughly Examined and Overhauled by an NAR Government," (Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad Publishing Co. Ltd.) 8.