Fazal Karim

Former Tertiary Education minister Fazal Karim has criticised the Government for abandoning students during the COVID-19 lockdown.

He said, “The incompetence and inaction by the current administration over the past five years has led to the crisis experienced in the education system over the past 50-plus days.”

Lamenting the fact that very little concern is being paid to the plight of vocational students who are also being adversely affected, Karim said, “Both ministers of Education have been delinquent in making policy adjustments to the GATE Programme with respect to student deferrals, withdrawals and even failures, given the sudden shift to online education.”

He suggested, “Existing penalties under the GATE programme should have been relaxed to support students during this time.”

Expressing concern that many vocational and non-university institutions were not prepared to make the transition to online learning given technological and financial constraints, Karim said, “Public education institutions have been asked to cut their budgets every year by this Government, and they will be forced to make further cuts this year to deal with the additional $10 billion national deficit.”

The Chaguanas East MP said during his time in office, the Kamla Persad Bissessar administration championed advances in education technology and that as minister, he spearheaded a national online learning platform called Knowledge.TT—which was linked to global leaders such as Coursera, EdX, FutureLearn, and Khan Academy.

Karim said the T&T Research and Education Network had also been implemented to drive regional and international online research and development while local technology skills development was supposed to be enhanced through the laptop distribution to all Form One students under former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh.

Karim attributed the current number of 60,000 students who are unable to access digital content, as a direct consequence of the, “dismantling of the entire technology infrastructure built by the People’s Partnership Government.”

With university graduates expected facing a grim future right now, Karim said, “No policy, programme or idea has been developed by the Government to bring relief to the thousands who will graduate this year.”

“The National Training Agency has gone into hibernation and has no plan for the workforce, while the OJT Programme has been brought to a grinding halt with COVID-19.”

Karim added, “Many young graduates have parents who have lost their jobs, and their families are now dependent on the $1,500 Salary Relief Grant.”

The former minister concluded, “The education system is virtually grounded and in crisis because of a lack of planning and action.”