Interview: David Dulal-Whiteaway
What has been the impact of the changes introduced in 2017 under the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme?
DAVID DULAL-WHITEAWAY: While most of our programmes are GATE approved, meaning that enrolled students can apply for GATE funding if they wish, some specific programmes have not been as well attended in the 2017/18 academic year, largely due to financial concerns from prospective students. The government’s budgetary constraints may result in GATE payments to educational institutions being protracted over longer periods than in the past.
Generally speaking, the GATE programme has been in need of thorough reform. Being the government’s master policy on tertiary education, it should steer students towards study programmes that will help increase the country’s competitiveness and foster both innovation and entrepreneurship. The government has to carefully prioritise the allocation of incentives for some programmes over others through comprehensive labour market analysis. A successful reform of the GATE scheme would align education policy with the country’s economic plan, while at the same time ensuring that we remain competitive and explore new trade opportunities.
How can education become a tool to improve the country’s overall competitiveness, and foster innovation and entrepreneurship?
DULAL-WHITEAWAY: Trinidad and Tobago’s limited internal market of around 1.3m people naturally encourages goods producers and service providers in the country to find much larger markets to compete in. The increasingly globalised marketplace means we have even more reason to connect with other economies. Technology-driven remote work represents a new opportunity for well-trained and skilled workers to service the world from almost anywhere on the globe. This is a particularly interesting prospect for small nations that can offer such skills and workers, because there is practically no limit to where services could reach. Therefore, it is important to continually develop the government’s policies to address shortcomings in the education sector.
Above all, we are attempting to change the mindset of our students. We want to push them to constantly think outside of the box and come up with new business ideas. Disruptive, highly innovative and creative mindsets are equally as critical for well-established companies looking to compete in the global market as they are for entrepreneurs.
It is crucial to boost creativity and innovation from a very young age and for this to be achieved, an overhaul of teaching methods in primary education is crucial. It is usually primary schools that favour a standardised, linear approach to learning, which can sometimes inhibit individual expressions of creativity, especially in those fields the government is trying to push.
To what extent does the education system properly reflect the needs of the labour market?
DULAL-WHITEAWAY: There is already widespread awareness about the need and desire for education reform, which is an important first step. Public and private sector leaders should promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills along different education stages and they should adapt teaching methods to meet present needs.
STEM subjects have traditionally been regarded as challenging and only the most gifted students tend to continue their studies in this area. This has to change in order to diversify the labour market offering, as this will help bring more working opportunities for Trinbagonians from a range of different backgrounds. Similarly, schools, universities and business schools can play a key role in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation, and more specifically, help turn ideas into commercially viable and marketable opportunities.
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