When universal secondary education became a reality in Trinidad and Tobago it was a good move for the country. In principle secondary school placement for all children contributes to the development of the nation. Our inherited colonial education system from the British has created an interesting dynamic whereby some schools are “more prestigious” than others.
Many of us would remember the Common Entrance exam. When some students failed this exam, it crippled their development and more or less carved out a space for them in the society and the types of jobs they would eventually take on. Fortunately, when it was eliminated, and these lifetime roles were no longer determined at the age of 11 and 12.
The successor of the Common Entrance Exam was the Secondary Entrance Assessment, (SEA). Students now have multiple options and based on their performance are guaranteed placement in a secondary school. With talks of the possible elimination of the SEA by the Minister of Education Dr. Tim Gopeesingh the opportunity to discuss the way forward is now a matter of public interest and discussion.
In all reality there might be good evidence for the elimination of the SEA but the question must be asked, what would determine the criteria for entrance? The elimination of SEA is something that cannot and probably will not be done overnight because it will require some major transformation of the primary school system. Attention would have to be given to the curriculum while continuous assessment will become the order of the day, which will have a direct impact of how students are taught. .
Furthermore, many of our students slip through the cracks of the educational system and little or no services are provided for the academic and socioemotional challenges they face. Before SEA is eliminated, the government and all stakeholders must provide a solution to deal with our special-needs population, whether they are autistic or diagnosed with some type of learning disabilities. Our teachers currently lack the strategies and capacities to effectively handle these students and in many regards they are pushed to the side and labeled dunce.
Would the elimination of the SEA bring an end to the “prestige schools” syndrome? I don’t know because this is something that exists the world over. My position is, if and when the SEA is eliminated (which I believe it should), we have to take a hands on approach with our schools. We would have to tackle the problem of endemic failure of all low performing schools in urban and rural areas.
Will students be zoned to the nearest secondary school? This would ruffle some feathers and probably not the best solution. The development of specialized secondary schools is an area that the Ministry of Education and the “prestige schools” should further explore. The fact of the matter is our secondary educational system is still colonial and unfortunately trapped in somewhere in the 19th or early 20th century. A 21st century education system is needed to continue to facilitate the development agenda.
There is much to consider with the possible elimination of the SEA, however, if it is done correctly it has the potential to reform the educational system and thrust it into the 21stcentury, but it should be thoughtful and make every attempt to eliminate the “prestige syndrome” while creating better schools where all students can thrive and grow.