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Roti, innovation and universities
Plain roti or sada roti is generally eaten freshly cooked at breakfast and/or dinner. Of late, it has become quite a popular breakfast item at fast food outlets catering for the busy working and studying cohorts. One might venture to say that, as a breakfast item, its popularity is surpassed only by doubles.
It has moved from being a staple and traditional food item for the Indo-Trinidadian community to a national one. Dhalpuri was the first to make this transition and of late sada roti has also made it big time. Generally, dhalpuri was reserved for Sundays and festive occasions and sada roti was the everyday item. Interestingly, though, dhalpuri requires more preparation and materials, but it required less specialised cooking skills and thus found its way into the commercial arena first.
Further, since it could be refrigerated or frozen for future use without significant taste degradation, its entry as a food item into the supply chain of groceries and supermarkets was easy. To make a good sada roti requires a great deal of practice and its taste value really diminishes with time and refrigeration. Freezing it is unheard off and is likely to remain that way.
Further, the increase in the number of working women in the past few decades, due to economic necessity, made the making of sada roti for breakfast difficult or impractical, more so for those living away from home. It has been recognised, for some time now, that there is need for sada roti to be commercially available.
The introduction of sada roti by a local food company into the commercial food chain has to be recognised as a case of genuine innovation and the company ought to be lauded. In fact, there have been some really innovative products by several of our local manufacturers, entrepreneurs and cultural practitioners and this trend ought to be further encouraged and facilitated.
In light of this one cannot be faulted for wondering why this innovative mind-set is not more prevalent and widespread in the education system; particularly at the tertiary levels and even more so at the postgraduate and research programmes. It goes without saying that if an inquiring attitude is not cultivated in the formative levels of the education system then creative and innovative approaches to problem-solving at the tertiary level may well-nigh be impossible.
It is quite revealing that several very successful entrepreneurs, including some very famous modern ones in the digital enterprise areas, either did forgo entirely or the completion of their tertiary-level education.
It would be unrealistic and foolhardy to draw the conclusion that “innovation and entrepreneurship” and education are mutually exclusive as many more successful businesses have their origins in research labs and universities. But it is nevertheless necessary to examine the ethos of our education system, at all levels.
Are we encouraging wittingly or otherwise an exam-oriented culture or are we emphasising a culture of questioning curiosity? For the purposes of politics and expediency, we may wish to avoid these questions and bury our collective head in the sand. It leaves us exposed and readily available to be bitten when the negative consequences emerge.
Accessibility to universal schooling, particularly at the primary level, is both necessary and noble. However, as we progress up the education ladder, the products and outcomes must be both articulated and differentiated. The society needs to produce a cohort of skilled manpower to satisfy the needs of the existing businesses and industries.
But it also needs to produce a cohort of innovative and entrepreneurially-minded graduates. For this to happen, a clear and realistic policy is required.
To guide this policy, the country must be clear as to what kind of student and staff we want to populate these programmes. What kinds of environment and facilities do we need to create and sustain? Harvard, Yale, MIT, Oxford and Cambridge attract the brightest, hardworking and motivated students from all over the world.
They are exposed to, taught and mentored by faculties who themselves are successful real-world academic practitioners in their respective fields. Naturally their students are self-driven to emulate them. Success builds success! What kind of universities do we wish to have to drive our development?
• Prakash Persad is the director of Swaha Inc
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