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Teachers on SEA exam: Gopeesingh under pressure to keep it

Thursday, July 24, 2014

President of the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Devanand Sinanan says Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh knows the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination has to go but is bowing to political pressure from denominational boards which want to maintain the status quo of presiding over prestige schools.



“The minister’s heart is in the right place and he knows exactly what needs to be done to remove this examination but whether he has the political will to take that bold step and do away with the exam is a different question,” Sinanan said in an interview on Monday. He added: “He is bowing to political pressure from the entities which benefit substantially from the prestige/non-prestige school syndrome into which the exam has morphed. 


“I am not afraid to say that religious bodies are the ones who benefit most from the status quo. If you take away schools from the denominational boards the churches will collapse. They continue to exist by and large, in many instances, by the fact that they run the prestige schools. “They have to ensure in the eyes of the population that they must continue to think they run the better quality schools to ensure their continued existence and role in the scheme of things.”


He said if the playing field was levelled and all secondary schools provided equality and equity, then there would be no question of who ran the better schools. “The religious bodies would do all they can to ensure the status quo, and when they speak, government listens,” Sinanan said. The union leader was responding to statements made by Gopeesingh last week in San Fernando.


At a luncheon he hosted for the top 2014 SEA students, Gopeesingh said while he has expressed the desire to do away with the dreaded SEA exams and invited recommendations from a national perspective, sadly, none had been forthcoming from those who had been most critical. “That is simply not true,” said Sinanan, who has advocated for the complete removal of the exam.


He charged: “He has been forced to backdown. We have gone on record saying it is time for the SEA examination to go. And go means go, not to replace it with something else, as what happened when SEA replaced the Common Entrance Examination.” Zena Ramatali, president of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), also said that a decade ago her organisation recommended dropping the exam. “But the minister can’t make a pronouncement in the media and expect us to respond,” she said 


President of the National Primary Schools’ Principals’ Association (NAPSPA) Vallence Rambharat also has gone on record as saying the SEA is a burden, not only on students, but teachers, educators and their parents. Sinanan said there was no need for an examination to transition primary school students into secondary schools now, when there is universal secondary education. 


He recalled the examination was devised as a kind of selection process for the advancement of a percentage of students when there were limited secondary places. He added: “That situation exists no more. We have universal education so why do we still need it and what is the purpose of this exam? “This exam is no longer selecting students to move on. It has emerged as a means of stratifying students, perpetuating a class differential into prestige and non-prestige, good schools and bad schools. 


“This is absolutely undesirable if you are talking about quality education. So this exam is doing more harm than good.” In advancing its complete removal, Sinanan said the alternative was to administer the Continuous Assessment Component (CAC) aspect to ensure all primary schools came up to the standards of literacy and numeracy so there would be a seamless transition into secondary schools and students would be able to access the curriculum offered. 


The CAC was introduced in the 2012 examination for the assessment of Standards Four and Five students in a number of areas, including creating writing, visual and performing arts, ethics and morals. Twenty per cent of the marks from this assessment formed part of the final mark given for the 2014 SEA exams. Gopeesingh said next year, the CAC component would be increased to 30 per cent, with ten per cent from what has been obtained from Standard Four and 70 per cent from language arts and mathematics.


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