National Youth Productivity Forum 2019
President's Welcome Remarks
It is my pleasure to address you here this morning as we celebrate the culmination of all the hard work of the teachers and students over the past two months. The National Youth Productivity Forum is a programme that is integral to the fabric of AMCHAM T&T. We believe that creating a better economic future for our country means taking an active role in the development of the youth of our nation. Students, it is our hope that this interaction has challenged you and inspired you. It is our hope that you better understand that in order to be able to speak authoritatively, you must first listen, then consider other points of view and different perspectives on issues. It is only when we see beyond the moment, see beyond just one issue that we can find holistic and long-term solutions. Winning the argument for the sake of winning is never important if, in winning, we know that we undertake action that is neither in our best interest nor the best interest of the various groups to which we belong.
This year, the theme is “Safer schools, toward a more productive Trinidad and Tobago.”
Safety and security are on everyone’s minds. We continue to see headlines in the daily newspaper and social media reports detailing instances of bullying, violence, and criminal acts.
In January 2018, Form Five student Jaden Pereira of Signal Hill was beaten and hit with a concrete block by another student. Pereira suffered a fractured skull and had to be airlifted from Tobago to the Port of Spain General Hospital in Trinidad for treatment. He survived. The incident is forever etched in our minds as the fracas was recorded and the video posted and circulated via social media.
In February of the same year, a trainee teacher was robbed at gunpoint in the schoolyard by someone who had entered the school compound. While she was not seriously harmed, one can only imagine the psychological harm inflicted in such an attack.
In January 2019, six female students of Diego Martin North Secondary School were suspended after a video surfaced of them smoking something that appeared to be marijuana, in their school uniform.
The level of indiscipline, bullying, and violence that continues to occur in our schools is a legitimate concern for everyone. In times past schools were seen by students as a safe place away from their sometimes-tumultuous home life or crime-ridden community. Today those havens have turned into battlegrounds.
It would be remiss of me if I were to stand here and not acknowledge that for every report of wrongdoing in our schools there are students who continue to go above and beyond to do what is right.
On social media in February 2019 two young men from Tranquility Government Secondary School were photographed helping an elderly man change his tyre in Port-of-Spain.
Students from Chaguanas North Secondary school developed an app to anonymously report bullying. Students indicated that the app was developed from a desire by students to make TT a “safer and better place”.
Students continue to excel in academics, arts, and athletics, representing their schools and this country proudly.
How do we then bring balance to a system that appears to be broken and at times chaotic?
How can we move from having a zero-tolerance approach to school violence to having zero incidences?
To answer these questions, we believed that it was important to hear from the persons most affected – the students.
It could be easy to assign blame. The government, business, teachers, unions, or even civil society. Each can be charged with not doing enough to promote safer schools.
However, as the students so excellently demonstrated a solution can be found when we all try to work together.
Business leaders also need to take individual responsibility for creating a world that is safer and a better place to live.
We can choose to start small, simply by choosing to be a good neighbour. Small actions add up to big results. In the wake of the floods in November 2018, we say how small acts of kindness and generosity all added up to make a world of difference to the families who were gravely affected. The business community wasted no time and stepped in to assist.
This year’s theme is meant to ingrain the notion that the seeds which we plant today in the form of ideas and actions influence what we will reap tomorrow.
I would like to take a brief moment to speak directly to the parents and teachers. As a parent, I can testify that the best way to establish student success is to ensure that parents and teachers are allies. Building partnerships between parents and teachers must begin with non-judgmental communication. Teachers must listen to parents and parents need to take the time to understand where teachers are coming from.
Far too often parents and teachers both are guilty of dismissing the other’s viewpoint. This leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding. The more dismissed you feel as a parent the less likely you are to actively participate in your child’s school life, as teacher, the more you feel like you are being ignored or misunderstood the more likely you are to stop communication with a parent.
I would like to congratulate this year’s winners, as well as their teachers and parents. We know it is no easy feat to find the time in a world full of commitments, but we hope that you can see for yourself the growth in the students and we look forward to your continued support. I also hope that this experience has made a meaningful and indelible impact on your perspective on how you can impact the world.
I would like to take the time to express my gratitude to Neerala and the team at the Secretariat for their commitment to ensuring that this project happens every year.
To the sponsors, we remain ever grateful for your support, as well as the teachers and school administrators who continue to see the value in this programme.
To all students, the future leaders of our great country, one lesson I hope this experience has imparted to you is that you cannot do it alone. This is one of the reasons we have team discussions and not individual debates. It is through collaboration and this team effort that we overcome our greatest challenges. I also encourage you to dream. Dream big and dream loud. Don’t be bogged down by the cynicism of society or your past experiences. Instead, seek to marry your knowledge with those experiences so that you can orchestrate the future you desire.
Before I close. I would like to note that last year we were challenged by Her Excellency to ascertain if the NYPF was having a positive impact on the students. I am happy to say that we accepted the challenge and we are working with our partner UTT to do a tracer study on the almost 1,500 student graduates of the program to date.
For the honour of your attention and for the countless hours you put into preparing for the NYPF, I thank you.