“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence” – Denis WaitleyThis Friday, we commemorate our 50+1 Independence milestone. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not too old to be as a nation. But having completed four years of living in Trinidad (albeit a bit sequestered at Mt Hope!) the experience did give me a perspective for comparison, since the Trinis were also a colony of Britain and they became independent only four years before us.We can do worse than begin with our educational system — starting with the curricula and physical infrastructure, since this is where we would, by and large, create the generation that would give us a chance to catch up with our neighbours in CariCom — not to speak about the powerhouses in the East. It’s pretty hard to compete in a globalised world when your school’s not plugged in to the World Wide Web from the primary grades. While I’ve been reading of the moves to improve our connectivity, we have to move faster.But even more importantly than the curricula and the labs and computers etc, is the importance of getting young people to think critically. I think it’s rather unfortunate that, in Guyana, we rely too much on rote learning in our school system. The teacher is supposed to pass on a particular amount of information at each grade level, which the students are supposed to regurgitate in several exams every few years. We have the classic “teach to the test” approach. This is not good enough.This occurs even in the science subjects which are supposed to emphasise empirical knowledge that is tested experimentally before being accepted. One “crams” the information, rather than integrating it into a coherent framework through trial and error, thus it does not become a tool for processing other information that will be offered in life. Another problem encountered in the school system is that the subjects across the various “streams” aren’t used to shed light on common issues; which, after all, in real life, cannot be locked away in different boxes. I really believe that it is the cultivation of our faculties for critical thinking that will finally make us be really “independent”.Trinidadians have been enjoying their oil wealth ever since they became independent, but presently they are exhibiting all the symptoms exhibited by addicts when in “withdrawal”. With the downturn in production after their oil reserves began to be depleted at the same time that a severe fall in oil prices occurred, most of my Trini fellow students are worrying what would happen when the scholarships are cut and the system cannot absorb as many doctors as are being produced. They are worried about how “independent” they will be in the next decade. They are worried they may have to come to Guyana!!The lesson for us in Guyana is that we have to look ahead, and plan carefully and strategically as to how we would spend our oil money when it begins flowing. There is a fancy term the economists use: intergenerational wealth, which simply means that my generation in school shouldn’t get locked out of enjoying the oil and resource wealth because the present generation would have spent it all!! Apart from the personal interest, this would mean we are, in a few decades, going to return right where we began. And that is not what critical thinking would advise us if we want to remain independent.