Thirty Thousand failures: SEA

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013
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Secondary Entrance Assessment Examination

SEA. Such a trivial, stupid exam and so much fuss about nothing. The annual SEA results have come and gone once again, like so much of the wind and gas that passes for sound an fury in T&T. This is an exam that nobody approves of. It proves nothing except that children with better memories or test-smart children, do better in a certain type of test than less technically proficient children. It makes hard-back men and women tremble in their beds at night when they think of their exam experiences or ponder the results for their child. It forces children to spend their time studying exam questions when they should be reading or playing outside before the concrete monsters the Government is intent on building all over the island take over; that creates 11-year-old “successes” and “failures.” 

It, also, makes many children believe they are stupid, or worse, smart. The inequitable system of good schools versus poor schools continues and that causes serious illness in so many children, ranging from depression to diarrhoea, anxiety to abdominal pain and headache to hallucinations. No one has yet committed suicide but it is only a matter of time. Thursday, the day results came out, has become a marked day in the life of thousands. Everyone—from the man in the street offering congratulations, to the Minister of Education who apparently feels he has to visit the top schools “to share the news with the successful students” and thus consecrates the idea that the SEA is the beginning and end of primary school, to the media frenzy over the Top 100 or Top 3, including the usual preposterous headlines about Girl Power. It’s a horrible day for the ones who did well and for the forgotten ones who did not. Does anyone realise what we are doing to those children?

On the one hand we are creating undue pressure for the successful to continue to do better at a time when their minds are incapable of handling such stress. How can they ever live up to expectations? On the other, creating a I-am-a-failure mentality at age 11? Preposterous! Happy are those children who simply managed a basic pass. They can relax and enjoy their holidays. What is all of this nonsense about girl power and girls doing better in the SEA? Girls have always done better than boys in exams up to about age 18. Just compare the 11-year-olds you know. An 11-year-old girl is more advanced, physically, mentally and emotionally than an 11-year-old boy. Quite apart from the excessive emphasis on memory-type exams and exams and more exams and cramming, cramming, cramming, that’s another reason for doing away with the SEA: we have created a monster with the emphasis on an exam. 

Instead of children going to school to learn how to enjoy learning, to think for themselves and to learn how to work out problems, we are training them to accept whatever a person in authority says as gospel and to memorise so-called facts and, like parrots, regurgitate when called upon and are called successes and take pictures of them!

There are no pictures of the unsuccessful ones. Unhappiness must be shoved into the closet. At least the T&T Guardian this year ran an article with the headline SEA dreams come true; others crushed and briefly referred to “tears of disappointment” at the start of the article. No pictures though. Is there any evidence that children who do well in the SEA do better in life, however you define better (happier, richer, more productive)? There is none. There is evidence, however, that children who fail end up, as a group, less better off, more criminally inclined and more likely to live on the street.  

Thirty per cent of SEA students do badly in the exam. One in three. About 1,000 fail miserably. Why do they fail? No one knows. What happens to them? No one knows. Perhaps this is the group we should be concentrating on? This is the group the Minister of Education should be talking to? This is the group the media should be highlighting? Why are they failing and what can be done to assist them? What happened to the thousand from last year? And the year before? And for the last 30 years? Is that 30,000 failures out there on the streets? I would venture to suggest that a significant proportion of street children, drug addicts and criminals come from these failures.

I also want to suggest that most of the children who fail the SEA so miserably have some form of disability and that there is a direct relationship between disability in children, SEA failures and criminality in T&T. At least this year the minister has proposed that the SEA, in his own words, “the dreaded SEA,” be eliminated and be replaced by a continuous assessment system, a much fairer and more accurate system of evaluating a student. He must be congratulated for bringing this to the public table and prepare for war from those who dislike change. 
(From The Trinidad Guardian Tuesday, July 9th. 2013)
Mahogany Coconut Note:
The SEA (Secondary Assessment Examination) in Trinidad and Tobago, is the equivalent to the CEE( The Common Entrance Examination in Barbados) These exams are used to transfer students from primary to secondary schools. Many critics of these exams, including the Mahogany Coconut Group, believe that they should be abolished and replaced with continuous assessment or some other method , to more clearly define students abilities. Many critics also believe that the exams are too narrow because of the focus on  academics thereby excluding students with other (technical) skills.

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