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Don’t Shut the GATE: Why Trinidad and Tobago’s Government Should Leave Free Tertiary-Level Education Alone

locked-gate-padlock-chain-1405148399GqEThe Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses program (GATE), launched in 2004 by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, has helped millions of Trinidad and Tobago nationals to receive something that the generations before them could only dream of obtaining: quality tertiary education in their own homeland at little or no cost.

The late politician and former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning pushed for the introduction of the GATE program because he saw that there was an urgent need to improve the lifestyle of Trinidad and Tobago nationals; something he felt could only be accomplished by allowing citizens access to a sound education.

 

True to its name, the program opened the gateway to educational opportunities to persons from every walk of life, and, by extension, increased employability of the greater part of the population.

Now, just 12 years after its introduction, the present regime is threatening to shut the GATE, hanging thousands of ambitious youngsters, and older persons wanting to further their education, out to dry.

As a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, having been born and raised there, I can tell exactly what will happen should the GATE program be stopped. Once upon a time, the average Trinidad and Tobago national could not afford a college education. In fact, a college education at a local institution would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, thereby making it accessible only to the wealthy.

As a result, many bright young Trinidad and Tobago nationals would be forced to end their academic career after high school, and work minimum-wage-paying jobs for the rest of their lives.

Is this what the current Government of Trinidad and Tobago wants to take us back to?

Any sensible leader knows that the key to a nation rising is educating its people.

The argument that the current regime is raising is that, with the fall of global oil prices, and with Trinidad and Tobago’s main revenue coming from its oil, they can no longer afford to fund the tertiary education of thousands of Trinidad and Tobago nationals.

Yet, millions of dollars are handed out every year to private religious organizations for the purpose of funding the celebrations of religious observances.

Millions of dollars are handed out in prize money to local musicians/performers every year, musicians and performers who are already wealthy, mind you, during Carnival competitions.

Why not put those millions where they are really needed? Why not put them toward necessity and not luxury?

I know I’m going to piss a lot of people off when I say this, but religious organizations DO NOT require the luxury of millions of dollars to aid their celebrations.

Millionaire recording artists DO NOT need to be handed even more millions year after in prize money. Not when the Trinidad and Tobago government is whining about “not being able to afford” to pay its citizens’ way through college. To the bigwigs of the Trinidad and Tobago government; please do not murder the aspirations of so many young people. Don’t set us back 12 years. Failure to heed these words could see us trailing behind many developed nations for decades to come.

By: Danielle Dixon

Follow her on Twitter: @tooprettydani

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