Tobago’s investment in education bearing fruit

Over the past 14 years, the level of tertiary education in Tobago has nearly doubled.

And according to Secretary of Finance and Enterprise Development Assemblyman Joel Jack, that increase shows that the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) investment in education of the island’s youth is paying off.

Jack was speaking in support of a motion on human capital development, moved by Education, Youth Affairs and Sport Secretary Assemblyman Huey Cadette at Thursday’s plenary sitting of the House of Assembly.

In the last 12 months, the THA, through its Department of Advance Training and Advisory Services (DATAS), has awarded 166 bursaries and grants to Tobagonians to pursue tertiary education at a cost of $5.6 million for a wide range of academic disciplines.

“In addition to this Mr Presiding Officer, DATAS provides financial assistance to 140 existing awardees at an annual cost of $2.3 million. This is just over 300 students who would have benefitted from direct assistance by the THA to pursue tertiary education and this is in addition to the scholarships the Assembly would have given out on an annual basis to students who have been successful  at the CAPE or “A” Level examinations,” Jack said.

“The latest data from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) suggests that in 2014, 13 per cent of Tobago’s labour force had achieved tertiary education. That figure stood at roughly seven per cent in 2001” Jack revealed.

“What this seems to suggest is that the investment by this administration into tertiary education is beginning to show fruit, and while I am heartened by the figures, we still have to do more,” he said.

“The Assembly, however, faces a “fundamental challenge” to its efforts due to a lack of budgetary support from the Central Government,” Jack added, saying that for the past ten years, the Assembly has received just one tenth of the funds requested towards human capital development.

The Assembly’s Youth Energised for Success (YES) programme, Jack stated has so far benefitted 900 young people. The programme, started by the Finance Division in 2012, helps Tobagonians ages 18 to 35 to find jobs and internship opportunities, and gain valuable work experience.

Participants of the programme have secured internships in both the public and private sectors, including First Citizens, The Unit Trust Corporation, Parliament and Petrotrin, among others. Annually, two banking and economics students from Tobago receive summer internships at the Central Bank, while another two are offered internships at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Cadette said his Division is pleased with Tobago’s recent exam showings.

“In 2014 and 2015, we have seen tremendous improvement based on initiatives over the past ten years, bringing down the performance of SEA students achieving less than 30 per cent in the examination to under one per cent.”

Secretary of Community Development and Culture Councillor Denise Tsoiafatt-Angus said she is concerned that the Government continues to underfund Tobago in critical areas such as training and development of staff, as well as the island’s youth.

“Human capital development is a stimulus to economic development and requires creating and cultivating environments in which persons can rapidly learn and apply new ideas, competencies, skills, behaviours and attitudes,” she added.

She also feels the Ministry of Tobago Development has outlived its usefulness.

“It is clear that the Ministry has become idle and that is why mischief has become the order of the day over there. It is clear that the time has come for that Ministry to go as part of the constitutional changes to give Tobago its real autonomy,” Tsoiafatt-Angus said.

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