There are many compelling reasons why the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam is not the best way to evaluate a child’s readiness for secondary school, including the level of mental and emotional stress it inflicts on candidates who are children in their pre-and-early teens.
However, those arguments do not apply in the current scenario, although the stress and pain were very real for two youngsters who topped the placement exam in 2020 but were subsequently put through an emotional wringer because of significant blunders made in handing out the awards linked to the exam.
At this stage, it would be difficult to make up for the confusion, disappointment and embarrassment experienced by Ameerah Beekhoo, Aaron Subero and their families. This unsavoury affair has cast a pall over what should have been one of the greatest achievements of their young lives. It is also extremely unfortunate that they had to go the route of legal action in what could be shaping up to be a drawn-out battle with the Ministry of Education.
Fingers have been pointed at an unidentified senior official of the Ministry of Education for this very avoidable blunder made in awarding the President’s Medal for 2020 to the top SEA performer. That alone might not be sufficient. There is still a need for full accountability from all those who are responsible for this SEA debacle.
This was not a complicated matter. The practice has always been that the Education Ministry uses the SEA preliminary results to determine the President’s Medal winners.
The problem arose after Aaron Subero, who initially placed second, queried his marks. Ministry officials subsequently told the principal of his school, Maria Regina Grade School, that Aaron had in fact topped the SEA and was entitled to the President’s Medal Gold, not the silver medal.
However, within five days, the Subero family’s joy and excitement turned to crushing disappointment when the decision to award him the top SEA award was reversed.
It was also a bitter experience for Ameerah Beekhoo, the rightful recipient of the award based on the ministry’s policy of using preliminary and not queried results. The former San Fernando TML Primary School pupil was celebrated as the top SEA student at a function at the ministry’s headquarters only to find out now that she would receive the President’s Medal (Silver) rather than the gold.
The belated attempts at damage control have not worked. Whatever little consolation there is to be gained by awarding the President’s Medal (Gold) to both students, as has been suggested by their parents, will not erase this unpleasant experience for them and their families. This is all because of the incompetence and unprofessionalism with which this situation was handled by the ministry.
It is also disappointing that in the future there will not be an award to celebrate the academic excellence of top SEA students.
Topping a field of approximately 20,000 candidates in an exam that requires two years of intensive, stressful preparation is no easy accomplishment. Youngsters who reach that pinnacle of success deserve to be celebrated.
Students are not to blame for this SEA mess, so it is a pity future candidates will be deprived of an award for their brilliance.