|The Courier N° 123 Sept - October 1990 - Dossier Higher Education - Country Reports: Barbados - (EC Courier, 1990, 104 p.)|
by N.J. MASSON
Four hundred and fifty three man-months of technical aid to Trinidad and Tobagos two state-controlled technical institutes were provided under the auspices of the European Development Fund (EDF) over the period September 1978 to June 1989.
This took the form of assignment of 12 technical agents: five to the John S. Donaldson Technical Institute (JSDTI) located in the capital city, Port of Spain, in the north; and, seven to the San Fernando Technical Institute (SFTI) in the City of San Fernando in the industrial south, roughly 50 kilometres away.
The latest model of SFTI which 50 its doors in 1980 is the successor entity of two precursor institutes. The first of these was the Junior Technical School which was transmuted as it were into the predecessor institute of its current version in the mid 1950s. Its northern counterpart commenced operations in the first quarter of 1963, long after it was built but less than a year after Trinidad and Tobago had achieved political independence. While perhaps not as spectacular a metamorphosis as SFTI the latter underwent significant physical and organisational expansion by way of absorption of the staff and facilities of the former USAID-sponsored Changuaramas Trade School in 1964, and later by the construction of a technical teacher-training facility opened in 1979 for teachers of so-called specialised craft subjects in the senior comprehensive schools of the general education system.
Both institutions fall under the direct supervision of an organisational unit of the Ministry of Education, namely, Division of Vocational and Technical Education and Training which also, in effect, functions as de facto secretariat of the National Training Board, a non-statutory body entrusted with a great deal of responsibility but with very little teeth.
In the early 1960s the institutes provided a wide variety of courses at primary (craftsman) and middle manpower (technician) levels, employing various kinds of vocational and technical organisation, e.g. full time, day release, part-time day, evening, and so on. These were principally in industrial and commercial and to a lesser extent in distributive and home-making occupations, but also included, in the case of JSDTI, was a professional course in land surveying, long since projected into the hallowed halls of academia at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.
What the course of education and training, not to mention industrial, development would otherwise have been, is perhaps a subject worthy of serious study by those who write about the history of education, and industrialisation, but suffice it to say that implementation of the new policy measures meant that the technical institutes were to phase out their craftsmens courses to the comprehensive school system and to expand and deepen technician education and training programmes. The technical institutes would have had to phase out their trade courses in any event as was initially planned, but in the new order of things, mirabile dictu, occupational education and training was to be incorporated into a general education milieu as a matter of policy.
This then was the backdrop to the advent of EDF technical assistance to the two institutes, sought in order to assist generally with the introduction of new middle-level courses, inauguration of teacher training at JSDTI and also to assist in the final commissioning of the spanking new technical institute of the industrial capital and to set it on a path of perdurable development. It was ushered in at JSDTI in September 1978, specifically for the design and conduct of an upgrading course for supervisors and engineering assistants engaged in the highway engineering section of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications and concurrently for the planning of an education and training course, for civil engineering technicians, not hitherto offered in Trinidad and Tobago. It began at the former SFTI in January 1979 when an instructor in welding technology assumed duties as a member of the teaching establishment there but who, in the circumstances of commissioning of the new institute, became quite heavily involved, more so than in teaching, in the work of supervising the selection, reconditioning and installation of laboratory and workshop equipment for practical work in welding and fabricating, and heat treatment technology.
By the time the last agent left more than 10 years later, the institutes between them had received in addition, but excluding technical teacher training, assistants in the following: architectural drafting, quantity surveying, automobile technology, industrial instrumentation, mechanical engineering, production engineering, civil engineering, air-conditioning and refrigeration technology and building construction.
Mandates of technical agents
Overall, the objectives of technical assistance were promoted on the basis of individual contracts between agents and the European Association for Cooperation. The relevant mandates reflected an interesting farrago of duties from which one common element emerged, namely, responsibility for teaching, but some agents were to become more heavily involved in this than others.
Other duties correlated with technology transfer were included to varying degrees. In the case of four agents, all mandated duties were exactly the same as those stated in the job descriptions of regular full-time teaching staff, and for these same agents there were no specifically assigned responsibilities for curriculum development; nor were there any indications that they had to train counterpart staff in any way whatsoever; they were teachers, plain and simple, according to their remits. The job outlines of six other agents included a specific responsibility for assistance with training either or both counterpart teaching and ancillary support staff, the latter being either laboratory technicians or workshop attendants; and they also had a responsibility for assisting with curriculum development.
The average period of attachment of the technical agents was approximately three years; the longest tour roughly was nine years. The contractual periods of five agents were extended on more than one occasion in the case of at least two of them. Although mandates invariably designated agents as being assigned to one or other institute, some agents undertook work in both, by request.
Impact of technical assistance
In the industrial cycle, raw materials are transformed into finished products by the application of capital and skilled manpower (engineers, technicians, craftsmen and the like). Considering an analogy of this dynamic cycle in the world of occupational preparation is the typical scenario: unskilled manpower (the raw materials) being transformed behaviourally into skilled manpower (finished products) by means of the employment of capital assets and the technical and technological capability (including the brains and the skills) of the instructional staff. Training may thus be regarded as part of the construct of the elusive concept, technology transfer. As in the case of industry, where efficiency of any particular technology may be assessed by estimating value-added for specific configurations of capital and manpower mix (typically, value-added per worker and value-added per unit of capital employed), we could similarly attempt to assess the efficiency of technology transfer in a training situation. This could be done by determining, say, output of skilled workers per man-hour of training, and numbers of skilled workers trained per dollar of capital employed or as in this case, per dollar or ecu of technical assistance provided.
The major benefits of technical assistance were projected to be derived from transfer of technology to the local trainers of the new courses being introduced. The kind of analysis referred to in the foregoing was rendered impossible, however, because, with the exception of a few agents who kept detailed records of their work, the necessary dates were unavailable. In the circumstances, therefore, only an account is given of those aspects of technology transfer as they relate to: (i) training of trainers and ancillary staff; and, (ii) training needs in terms of curriculum design and associated infrastructure.
Training of local trainers and ancillary staff
As far as limited institutional training resources permitted, technical agents were assigned local counterpart teaching staff or ancillary staff or both, sometimes even when this was not specifically indicated by mandate, but more often than not on the basis of Hobsons choice. Suitably qualified staff to teach, let alone serve as effective counterparts were, to put it mildly, extremely thin on the ground. And in the majority of cases the local staff assigned had little or no industrial experience and hardly any practical skills. Under-staffing also meant that agents were frequently called upon to perform marathon sessions of classroom teaching, leaving very little time for anything else; so much chalk and talk that vital laboratory demonstration exercises for example had often to be cancelled. Altogether, 12 trainer counterparts were assigned but at the time of writing only eight of these were still in teaching at the institutes.
Constraints upon performance
The major factors which militated against the impact of technical assistance were:
Because of the unavailability of local full-time staff, caused by inability to fill vacancies or for other reasons, it became necessary for some agents to undertake substitute teaching apart from meeting their own teaching commitments, resulting in some cases in student contact instruction of 25 h-30 h per week. This excessive teaching load allowed little time for anything else, with consequent losses in transfer-of-technology benefits. Staff shortages also created difficulties with scheduling of training sessions with counterpart staff.
Because of either the unavailability of equipment or acquisition of unsuitable equipment, practical work including hands-on training suffered with resultant diminution in the impact of teaching and technology transfer. Training also suffered because of poor accommodation, specifically the northern wing of JSDTI.
The absence of a fellowship component operating in concert with technical assistance to supplement the work of technical agents with local trainers, resulted in delays in implementing proposals for succession planning - and deepening of the technology-transfer process.
Lack of coordination in implementation of technical assistance
Although there were present at the same time in Trinidad and Tobago and for fairly long periods of time several agents involved in the work of the two technical institutes, no attempts on the part of either governmental or EEC agencies were made to integrate their work in a coordinated frame such that the institutes might have derived the most from the efforts of the agents acting in concert as one unit as opposed to individual inclination. Two examples stand out: development of the education and training programmes for construction and air-conditioning and refrigeration. Such a mechanism might have undoubtedly reduced, if not altogether eliminated, the open conflicts between agents which arose in the field over a number of technical issues.
Problems arose where the contracts of agents whose responsibilities focused on teaching, ended before courses did, thereby necessitating approaches to relevant authorities for extensions which did not always come in a timely manner. Thus agents performances were adversely affected.
By any reasonable standard of assessment, it could be concluded that the John S. Donaldson and San Fernando Technical Institutes fairly benefited from the technical assistance sponsored by the European Communities over the period 1978 to 1989.
As these institutes move to the status of schools of advanced science and technology, there can be little doubt that further technical assistance from the EEC and possibly also from other multilateral and bilateral agencies will be required in order that they may be restructured.
The experience gained from this, the first wave of technical assistance, should serve as guidance for avoidance of glitches and pitfalls and suggests that in the mounting of successor schemes, planning and implementation should be done on the basis of a cooperative project involving the institutes, relevant governmental agencies, representatives of industry and the local office of the Delegate of the Commission of the European Communities, and which would include twinning arrangements with suitable education and training institutions abroad.