Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 12th 2015 Contents Perhaps this difference in attitude speaks
to the difference in the historic colonial rela-
tionships with Britain (African colonisation
compared with Caribbean enslavement).
It has also been argued that the historic
economic migration of Caribbeans was largely
"blue collar" workers whereas Africans came
later and were more likely to be middle class
This might explain why aspirations of
Caribbean families in Britain mirror those of
working-class white British families 50 years
ago: leave school at 16 and get a job.
While Trinidadian students attain schol-
arships study at the best international uni-
versities, black British students are practically
invisible in universities.
Similarly, it was reported this week that
there are only 17 black lecturers in UK
There are also very few black teachers
in British classrooms. This lack of role
models (particularly male ones) is a major
My mother used to encourage me to take
up teaching---aware of the need for male
teachers to encourage and demand better
of black pupils; to teach them that being
clever is cool.
Perhaps the fact that I never took on the
responsibility and discipline of that role
speaks to my own individual failings: a
microcosm of the macro-failings the British
Caribbean community has burdened its
young people with.
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, February 12, 2015
The Department of Education in the UK released
depressingly familiar figures this week showing that
black British Caribbean students are the lowest
achieving group amongst schoolchildren, with just
47 per cent achieving five GCSEs---the equivalent
of CSEC---at grades A--C (the basic measure of passing
or failing in British schools). Over half are failing
at the age of 16.
British African pupils are now 10 percentage points
more likely to achieve the same; putting them alongside
Indian and Chinese children as the highest achieving
ethnic minority groups.
The year I spent in Trinidad showed me the level
black Caribbean children can perform at in the school
system. It gave me satisfaction and real relief to see
academic achievement as well as pride in their schools,
respect and admiration for good teachers, disciplined
behaviour in and out of classrooms and an under-
standing that improving yourself through learning
contributes to social development for future gener-
ations, producers leaders and thinkers and underpins
functional family structures.
This mentality is the opposite of what we see in
inner-city London schools and it is saddening to see
British children of Caribbean descent---boys in par-
ticular---act out the long-established negative per-
ceptions of themselves from the wider society. Those
perceptions being that they aren t academically gifted,
don t want to learn, place no value on schooling and
are badly behaved.
The contrast between Britain and the Caribbean
shows us that this under-achievement is a systemic
and social problem rather than an ethnic one.
Low expectations from teachers and parents result
in a serious lack of motivation and black children are
too easily allowed to remain in an educational stupor.
It is easy to blame a child for laziness but there aren t
many children (of any colour or background) who
push themselves of their own accord---they have to
be pushed and led by example.
In British Caribbean homes and communities, more
emphasis is placed on leisure, on sport, on hyper-
masculinities (reading, for example, is seen as effete---
too feminine even for girls!) on computer games, on
music, clothes, bikes and cars, haircuts, relationships
or even the bible and God.
The problem isn t changing---it has remained the
same for decades.
When I was at primary school my teacher, Ms
Brady, decided to interview me; a mixed race boy in
London. She was analysing perceptions of ethnicity
and correlations with achievement, for her doctorate
thesis. One of the questions she asked me was, "How
do you think people see black or mixed-race boys?"
My response was along the lines of, "I think people
see us as stupid because of the clothes we wear and
the way we talk."
It was the honest answer of a ten-year-old boy. It
was a truth that a lot of people don t want to face.
People in Britain do see black kids as stupid and a
lot of black kids don t really want to do anything to
challenge that. It s not cool to be clever, see?
If you hear black British teenage boys speak, you ll
hear the language of the rudeboy, the street, the oppo-
site of the intellectual.
Where does this rejection of academia come from?
It s all part of a rejection of authority that has existed
in this community ever since the race riots of the
1970s and 80s: that explosion of anger at a host nation
that had rejected it---a refusal to be subdued any
Attitudes to academia are rooted in Caribbean fam-
ilies attitudes to the British "establishment" (as my
Jamaican father calls it) and a suspicion about how
and why we are being taught things---is this "our"
history, "our" literature, "our" geography, music,
drama? Or is it "theirs"?
Many British African children have different upbring-
ings. Their parents place more value on discipline,
achievement, social status, careers and future earnings.
They are taught, like Indian children, that those things
follow on from doing well at school.
Why Caribbean kids fail in UK schools
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