Category Archives: Education

SEA on the Chopping Block???

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.



The Cow Jumped Over the Moon: Lessons on Democracy and Devlopment or Nursery Lies

Note:  A version of this article appeared in the Tobago News on April 14th, by the same author titled: Addressing Human Capacity.    The article was slightly updated.  The author is a freelance writer, journalist, and former Assistant Editor of the Tobago News.

Democracy and development are two powerful concepts that cannot be separated; however, gaps often occur which leads to stagnation. The most important linkage between democracy and development is education.     In a developing island like Tobago, the democracy that emerges will be authentic given our unique culture, but the principles of democracy worldwide are the same.    Without a historical lesson on democracy that will take us back to Ancient Greece, or early America in a more modern context, whether it was Plato in Greece, or Thomas Jefferson in America these minds understood the importance of education to support democratic ideals and institutions.

With that said we must now turn our attention to the human capacity required to drive development and support democracy.    In this 21st century our education system at every level must be scrutinized because it is a gateway for access, aimed at preparing every citizen to contribute to the development of the country.    And mind you there are many brilliant minds across the island of Tobago, but to a degree we are not mining these minds and ultimately our human capacity is severely reduced.

During one of the face-to-face with the THA in Charlotteville, this concept was evident by the concerns raised by one parent who spoke about the need for trained teachers to for early childhood education.   Later on came the confession of Dr. Duke who spoke about the human resource challenge at the hospital.  People were moved to tears when one man who spoke about the passing of his wife due to an aneurysm, the human resource challenge on the island, in fact the nation should have been declared a state of emergency.    (In a timely update, close friend and teacher on the island suffered from an aneurysm last November and nothing could be done to help her, neither in Tobago or Trinidad. Fortunately, she was able to seek treatment and brain surgery in the United States. She is lucky to be alive.)


Many of us are familiar with the concept of “brain drain,” and while it is true that many people leave to further their education, we need to closely examine this concept.  Perhaps, it is not brain drain, because all brains are created equally.   Maybe it is what we pour into our brains that account for where the deficits begin.   Case in point, if children as young as five and six are using cell phones and iPads, it is insulting to their educational capacity by lying to them and teaching them about cows jumping over moons.   Mind you, we are not against nursery rhymes, but as one parent said, he would not want his child to be lied to.     So for starters, our brains are filled with lies from the very beginning, and that brain drain concept is almost a lie, if not a total lie, because the humans are present and the capacity is limited.

Furthermore from observation there is a pervasive class system within our educational system in Tobago if not totally discriminatory based on geographic location.   We must simply as a few questions to find the evidence of this.   First, Which school is our best school? Where is our best school?   Who has access to this school?  If we can answer these questions with a resounding “all our students island wide have access to the best schools and the best teachers, irrespective of their geographic location,” then there would be no point of this article.

We do understand the challenges Tobago face and it must be addressed on all fronts but we must also understand that democracy is an experiment; you have to try new things.  If we are experimenting, we must find solutions and strategies that work.