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Octavia Alfred, left, greets a supporter
Octavia Alfred, left, greets a supporter

I viewed with interest and then much disgust a news clip circulating via social media of my Minister for Education expressing her frustration with the situation the government has found itself in, having promised financial aid to several students for study. While I do understand the message that the minister meant to convey, sadly, it was lost in the gross disrespect which followed.

According to the Minister, the letter given to students states the government's commitment to one year of study. It should be inferred, then, that the other years are the students' responsibility. Had her message been communicated as simply as this, I doubt her response would have been circulating on social media, but alas, it wasn't! Instead, she expressed to the students that they should "shake their pampalam" to meet the cost of year two.

Madam Minister, since I am aware that you have at least a child, I ask, "would you have been thrilled at the idea that he was "shaking his pampalam" to fund the cost of his education? Since Madam, you are wont to put your Christianity on display, I will refer you to Matthew 7:12 "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them…"

I will also say to you madam, that since I am aware that a few years ago, the prime minister addressed the issue of our children being preyed upon by individuals of means in our society with principals and other relevant school personnel, I am aghast, and would hate to be forced to consider your contribution to that meeting then, mere hypocrisy, as you are seemingly promoting what you were then condemning, but I will graciously give you the benefit of the doubt. Madam, you are an educator and should be cognizant of the ambiguities associated with such expressions.

Then, Madam, there is the matter of your explanation of the situation in a news clip. According to you, you were merely parroting a word a colleague often used with her students in the past. Since Madam, the term was foreign to you, weren't you at any time curious enough to find out what that word meant? A simple internet search would have revealed that at least in Trinidad, it is used to refer to "the vagina or female private parts" (Glossary of Trinidadian English). Clearly, based on the outcry here, this meaning has crossed borders and the context in which it was employed has drawn the ire of many. A sincere apology and maybe a claim of "a slip of the tongue" would probably have been your saving grace, but instead, you chose to blame someone else for your indiscretion. Blaming never works. Acceptance of wrong done is always the first steps to righting a wrong.

Madam, it appears that the responsibilities of the job are getting a bit overwhelming for you. A dear friend once told me that you truly get to know a man when he is faced with adversity. Madam, this is not even adversity. If only to save the Ministry of Education and the Government further embarrassment, something should be done to reign in your tongue. I suggest that your communication with the public should be vetted by someone with more tact and that you are advised to stick to the script. Finally, Madam, in case it has slipped you, you do owe the students, their parents and the Ministry of Education an apology. Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he shall lift you up. James 4:10

Embarrassed Educator


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