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At sea with Secondary Entrance Assessment

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Last year, Prof Selwyn Cudjoe with his usual erudition, unvarnished frankness and absence of pretence opened up a can of worms with his articles and letters questioning the amazing SEA results of the Chaguanas Primary School, which topped the nation.


This year, it may be how the worms managed to get out of the can so early, leaving egg all over the face of the Minister of Education as some erstwhile and/or enterprising hackers apparently had the SEA exam results long before the minister himself could have had his grand day, making the rounds of schools last Thursday.


This leak scenario, in the proportions of a mini Wikileaks scandal, does little to assure the public about the sanctity and integrity of this much maligned exam, its processes and procedures. Add to this, the proposed “Tim-kering” with the SEA for radical changes to the examination structure over the next few years, and one sees just how much the respect, tradition and esteem of this once noble exam can be reduced to a hollow shell.


It brings into question the entire utility, purpose and intent of the exam in the first place. Because of this, it stands to lose its lustre and shine as a true judge and unbiased adjudicator of raw academic intelligence. We thus have to begin to ask ourselves, what is the real value and purpose of this examination in our society anymore?


Because there are so many parents who implicitly don’t trust the system and feel that there are others who, with more money, persistence, influence and clout, can manipulate the results and the placements into the “good” schools. The entire system becomes suspect and tainted in the eyes of thousands of parents and by extension their children.



This latest “leak fiasco” has done nothing to restore confidence and in fact serves to erode trust and faith even more. No amount of shouting from the rooftops by Ministry of Education officials or crying foul by them serves to bring back that belief in the purity of the system. All that some members of the public will be thinking is “racket, racket, racket”. 


What then is the real purpose of this SEA exam anymore? Is it for the purposes of class and status distinctions? Is it for the purpose of distinction by geographic locale and origin, or is it for distinction by way of race, ethnic or religious divisions so that one group can crow and boast over the other and seek to proclaim that “our children are brighter than yours”?



Such broad based classifications and categorisations of persons and their intelligence according to race are always foolish, futile and facile pursuits. This, as exemplified by what happened to James Watson, the once revered father of genetics, who along with his partners Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, had worked out the structure of DNA (deoxy-ribonucleic acid) decades ago.



In an ironic twist of fate, Watson was made to eat his words and was thoroughly humiliated on the world stage when he sought to use his elevated status as the Father of Genetics, to push an utterly hollow, false and intellectually dishonest racist agenda. He came out and declared that after years of his work, he has concluded that persons of African origin are less intelligent than persons of Caucasian origin.


Watson was criticised, embarrassed and humiliated on the world stage for such asinine remarks, and was also asked to step down from several boards and university committees. The irony of it was that it has now been established that Watson is of 16 per cent African origin and that he has 16 times more genes of African origin than the average person of Caucasian stock. This just goes to show and expose the paucity and shallowness of the arguments of those both abroad and here at home in T&T, who relentlessly and persistently push their racist, bigoted agendas of racial supremacy and superiority.


Even from the basis of class distinction it is a foolish and illusory pursuit because events in the recent past have shown us that persons from the lowly ranked “Junior Secondary” schools can conduct themselves with tremendous class and distinction, while some from the upper crust “prestige” schools can show themselves up as merely being low persons in high places. So what’s the real basis and justification for this SEA system anymore?


Looking at the pressures, the stress on parents and children, the torment and the agony of the preparation and grooming for these examinations, we must sit back and ask ourselves as a nation if after 50 years of Independence, is this what we really want for ourselves and for our future?



Has this exam outlived its usefulness and function in society? Should we instead consider some other system or method of assessment, grading or eligibility for secondary school entrance? Should we fail to see the signs and read the writing on the wall, we will be doomed to forever be at sea with SEA.


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