Exploring roman catholic primary school principals’ views as to the human development potential of roman catholic primary school education in trinidad and tobago: a capabilities and functionings approach.

Geofroy, Stephen Nigel Martin; Mohammed, Jeniffer (2018). 'Exploring Roman Catholic primary school principals’ views as to the human development potential of Roman Catholic primary school education in Trinidad and Tobago: A capabilities and functionings approach.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The education system in Trinidad and Tobago was developed under colonialism and today retains much of its elitist elements, even with on-going reforms to address issues of equity (De Lisle, Keller, Jules & Smith, 2009). Consequently, across the whole system, there are high-status or high-demand schools and low-status or low-demand schools at both the primary and secondary levels. Trinidad and Tobago is characterized by ethnic and socio-economic diversity and over the years education served, albeit disparately, different groups in Trinidad and Tobago.  An interesting aspect of present-day educational governance in Trinidad and Tobago is that there are many religious schools (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist as well as Hindu and Muslim). These religious schools are to a large extent are funded by the state and classified as assisted schools. The state also maintains its own schools (which are in the majority). As a result any child of any denomination or religion can attend any primary or secondary school once they have cleared the necessary matriculation or other requirements. This paper focusses on Roman Catholic Schools at the primary level in Trinidad and Tobago and poses as problematic, that the clientele does not have to be Roman Catholic – or, they could be in the minority. In addition, while various factors contribute to a disparity in the quality of exam results obtained across the RC schools, concerns about equity in educational provision inevitably arise especially given that ideals of holistic human development, inclusion and justice are integral features of catholic educational philosophy (Antilles Episcopal Conference, 2011). The Roman Catholic Church currently administers 118 primary schools out of a total of 483 primary schools in the country. In the system of educational provision as a whole, most schools are located in city areas as much of Trinidad and Tobago is either urbanized or within easy reach of urban facilities. In some cases schools are located in crime-ridden inner-city “hot-spots” with inevitable accompanying challenges but nevertheless strive amidst these challenges to wrest opportunities afforded by the system of government assisted schooling.  In such a complex situation, clarity of schooling purpose with regard to the human development of students seems paramount and thus since educational stakeholders are intimately affected, their views are essential to any reforms that may be in the offing. It is fortuitous then that there is an initiative currently underway in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain in which key areas of concern are earmarked for stakeholder consultation, of which one is catholic education. This paper intends to contribute to this new wave of reflection and soul searching among the Roman Catholic community as they look for ways of being more relevant and of value to their charges in the 21st century. As a key sector among stakeholders, principals’ perspectives are essential and delimited as the target of this research. This article thus explores views of principals as to what they perceive as the actual opportunities and challenges of RC primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago and discusses these views in the light of the capability approach. The research questions consist of the following: How do primary-school principals in Trinidad and Tobago perceive the actual opportunities and challenges of Roman Catholic primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago?  To what extent is the official Roman Catholic educational view compatible with the capability approach? To what extent do Principals of Roman Catholic primary schools in Trinidad and Tobago value the capability approach to education in primary schools?

Background data were derived from documents from the Catholic Educational Board of Management (the body that oversees the operations of RC Schools) and from the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Education as to performance in exams in the recent past. Soundings of the principals were derived from a focus-group session of 80 principals from a variety of RC schools and from follow-up questionnaires. Data analysis consists of a thematic approach (Braun & Clarke, 2012) with an ensuing critical discussion examining the themes derived. Principals’ views are discussed in the light of current educational and human development thinking and relevant teachings on catholic education. This article is therefore geared to inform one aspect in a process of investigations into catholic education currently underway. Expected findings consist in a movement toward greater clarity gained from exploring the perception of principals as key stakeholders as to opportunities and challenges in this urbanizing context. From the vantage point of these principals, tangible proposals toward primary school reform may emerge. An essential part of this initiative is to provide focus on what our schools are for and what outcomes can be prioritized for the human development of all children (Roman Catholics and others) served by RC schools. The capabilities approach is a cutting-edge developmental approach (Haq, 1995) with significant educational applicability (Hart, 2012) for engaging perspectives of key educational stakeholders. As such, insights into human development are used along with other relevant analytical approaches such as post-colonial theory (Hickling-Hudson, 2004) and inclusive education (UNESCO, 2005) as the local context requires. Ultimately, the authors propose that a human development approach to education, focusing on capabilities and functionings, has the scope to address issues of social injustice while remaining close to some of the key tenets of catholic education and at the same time actively includes students who may be of a different religion.


Key words: Principals’ views; capabilities approach; Catholic primary schools; human development; catholic education in Trinidad and Tobago.

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