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WHAT EVERYBODY KNOWS
Everybody knows that young black men are under performing academically. Everybody knows that more Indo-Trinidadian children are passing SEA and CXC. And everybody knows that Indos are vastly over-represented compared to Afro-Trinidadians at the tertiary level.
According to the 2011 Population and Housing census and other statistical surveys, however, what everybody knows is wrong. In fact, when it comes to education, the Central Statistical Office says that the two largest ethnic groups are pretty much equal. In respect to Ordinary Level subjects, the two groups were exactly on par at 22 per cent while, for undergraduate degrees, Indos outstripped Afros only slightly, at 3.6 per cent to 3.2 per cent.
Now, the obvious rejoinder is that the differential between the older and younger generations in both racial groups has created a spurious average. But the data say otherwise. In the 20 to 29 age group, there are approximately 20,000 Indos and the same number of Afros with no formal academic qualifications. And when it comes to CXC or GCE passes, more Afros than Indos have passed this level—30,000 Afros compared to 28,000 Indos.
So is it those Christian, Muslim and other non-Hindu Indos who are pulling down the group’s average? It doesn’t seem so. Among Hindus, a whopping 57 per cent have no certificates; it is 53 per cent for Muslims; and for Presbyterians, the ratio was 44 per cent. This compares to a national average of 54 per cent. In respect to O’Levels, Hindus are on par with the national average at 22 per cent; Muslims come in at 23 per cent; and Presbyterians at 24 per cent. At the tertiary level, four per cent of the population has Bachelor’s degrees: three per cent of Hindus have reached this level; four per cent of Muslims; and seven per cent of Presbyterians.
And, again, it is not the case that the older generation is skewing the average: among Hindus aged 60 to 69 years, almost 13,000 had no subjects; for the 20-to-29 year olds, the total was just over 11,000. Put another way, all the Maha Sabha primary and secondary schools that Sat Maharaj likes to boast about have made little or no difference to the education of Hindus in the lower socio-economic brackets. Moreover, this is the case even with those Hindus who have attained at least Ordinary Levels: between Hindus in their 60s and those in their 20s, there has been a tenfold increase in those having O’Levels. But compare this to Shouter Baptists, who at 65 per cent tops the list of religious denominations having no formal qualifications: between their older and younger generations, there has been a 19-fold increase in the number of Shouters with CXC subjects.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the CSO’s figures, or my breakdown of their stats, is dead wrong. Although 53 per cent of the census respondents are categorised as having no qualifications, these are most likely people who don’t have five O’Levels, since previous surveys in 1990 and 2009 estimate this group at 11 per cent, which seems more realistic. But the educational equity of T&T’s two main racial groups has been confirmed by these and other surveys conducted by MORI, the United Nations and other organisations—indeed, I have been arguing this point for nearly a decade, to no avail.
The key question, then, is why is what everybody “knows” about education and ethnicity so wrong? In my opinion, there are several connected answers. The first link is, of course, racial stereotypes: negative for people of African descent, positive for those of Indian descent. This is linked to salience—ie, the most visible cohorts of each group are taken, erroneously, to be representative of the average: hence, scholarship winners for Indos, criminals for Afros. But this in turn is tied to a victimhood narrative, most loudly promulgated by Afrocentric groups and individuals whose own sense of mission (and, oftentimes, incomes) depends on pushing the worst images of their own race—they themselves being shining exceptions, of course.
At the same time, it is an incontrovertible fact that most violent crimes are committed by young black men who also account for two-thirds of all inmates in the nation’s prisons. This is so even though the CSO’s Household Budgetary Surveys in 1998 and 2009 both show that the two racial groups are on par economically—indeed, the 2009 HBS shows that there are more Afro than Indo households where the head earns more than $13,000 monthly. So the second important question is this: why, given population and educational and income parity, are more Afro-Trinidadians apparently more dysfunctional than Indos?
There are all kinds of factors at play, but my choice for the key variable is marital status. The census shows that just one-third of all adults Afros are married, as compared to half of all Indos. Again, all kinds of factors may account for this but, although the two groups are on par educationally in general terms, 57 per cent of Afro males have no qualifications compared to 48 per cent of Afro women; there is a five per cent male-female gap for O’Levels; while at tertiary level half as many black men (two per cent) have undergraduate degrees as black women (four per cent). This skews mating choices in ways from which all kinds of consequences might flow. But analysing those consequences requires data, not conventional wisdom: since conventionality, as the statistics show, is so often unwise.
Kevin Baldeosingh is a professional writer, author of three novels, and co-author of a History textbook.