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Continuing Education Programmes Flourish in Trinidad and Tobago
By Peter Richards,
Inter Press Service
  Port of Spain, 10 March (IPS) - Continuing education -- evening classes for working people -- has undergone a huge transformation over the last decade in Trinidad and Tobago as thousands of people of all ages seek to improve their marketability.
   ''For the student, there is an overt aura of jubilation and ecstasy. Myriad opportunities are suddenly available to the extent that a new wave of problems is emerging -- the choices are just too many,'' says Selwyn Jagdeo, president of the Institute of Tertiary Tutors.
  The millions of dollars spent annually by students on continuing education have also spawned institutions offering courses they are not qualified to provide, so much so that the government has had to issue warnings to the public.

  The government says many of the private institutions are taking advantage of the potential student's haste ''to make ourselves marketable and to have the competitive edge in the job market.''

  The Sir Hugh Wooding Law School, affiliated to the University of the West Indies (UWI), for instance, is finding the proliferation of private educational institutions, particularly those providing courses in legal education, somewhat worrisome.
  But Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has launched a bitter attack on the Law School, complaining that many private students have been denied entry to the school, a situation which effectively denies them the right to practice law in the region.
  ''No government can ignore the discrimination and injustice being suffered by its nationals who are being denied their basic right to pursue the professional career of their choice,'' Maharaj said.
  According to figures produced by the Attorney General, only 14 of 138 external degree graduates were allowed into the Sir Hugh Wooding Law School in 1999 and he has blamed the Council of Legal Education for that situation. About 60 new external law degree graduates seek entry to the law school annually.
  But the Council of Legal Education, the governing body for the region's two law schools -- the other school is located in Jamaica -- has dismissed Maharaj's concerns pointing out that it was not a body independent of Caribbean governments and capable of pursuing its own agenda. The UWI is funded by Caribbean governments.
 ''Any decision to change the admission policy is a decision entirely up to the governments,'' the Council's chairman, Jamaican Dennis Morrison, a Queen's Counsel said.
  The region's governments have no say, however, in what the scores of entrepreneurial organisations spawned out of large conglomerates, professional associations and foreign institutions have brought to the continuing education movement.
  A number of foreign institutions, including the Mount Allison University of Canada, have been making pitches to potential students here, forging partnerships with private sector businesses, providing yet another avenue for continued education.
  ''There are now reputable educational establishments providing bona fide links with internationally accredited institutions. Joyfully, educational barriers are now broken as many routes are available for the acquisition of a degree or professional qualification,'' says Jagdeo of the Institute of Tertiary Tutors.
   The technological revolution has helped in that respect, with the Internet, teleconferencing and external programmes providing the students with new options.
  The Royal bank of Trinidad and Tobago's Institute of Business and Technology has formed an alliance with the University of New Brunswick in Canada offering a number of degree and associate degree programmes ranging from journalism to education to nursing -- all via distance learning. .
  ''They are all here, new money has bred a host of new providers and the changing nature of society has contributed to the replacement of the established providers by new ones,'' says Lennox Bernard, Resident Tutor at the UWI's School of Continuing Education at the St. Augustine campus here.
  The School of Continuing Studies, formerly known as the Extra Mural Studies Unit, is the oldest ''second chance'' institution here and began operations in 1949 with a handful of students.
  It has grown to a present student body of more than 10,000 pursuing no less than 50 courses that included Certificate programmes with access to main campuses of the University, and general education, special skills, and job-oriented curricula.
   ''We are improving our teaching spaces and building new ones, with the intention of providing a learning culture that is safe, receptive and true to the lifelong learning principle. All this, as we seek to maintain tuition fees at a rate that the working class can pay,'' Bernard said.
  The government also got involved in continuing education last year launching a College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts (COSTAATT) offering Associate Degrees and ''relevant hands on tertiary training.''
  ''COSTAATT was created to address the urgent need to expand the range of tertiary education programmes available in Trinidad and Tobago. For the past two decades, it has become more and more apparent that the options for tertiary education need to be expanded,'' COSTAATT said.
  Another government initiative is the community-based distance learning centres, which were launched ''to make education and training accessible to as many citizens as possible.''
  Dr Rupert Griffith, the minister of training and distance learning says the centres will provide ''additional opportunity for closing the gap between the existing demand for knowledge skills and competence on one hand, and the inadequate supply of skill and knowledgeable personnel on the other.''
This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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