Yesterday marked the annual Secondary Education Assessment (SEA)… that revered examination from which a child’s future success is determined. The test that almost always decides the advancement of children in today’s society. Yes, there are those who did not achieve their desired results and went on to incredible success later in life. But the reality is that for many, this examination is the beginning of achievement or struggle.
SEA came about in 2001 as a supposed improvement over the colonial Common Entrance exam. Call it what you want but it’s not improvement. In Trinidad, up to 1968, secondary school education wasn’t free to the general population. However, a select number of students who achieved success through the College Exhibition, were granted the opportunity to free secondary education. The College Exhibition was later replaced by the Common Entrance Examination, but even with the introduction of free secondary education, there was a prestige established by the exam. The previously existing schools catered to the higher classes of society, who had the financial resources to pay for their children’s education and it was of paramount importance to maintain that standard of separation. Additional secondary schools were established, but they were not on an even footing. They didn’t have the finances to be properly run, inexperienced teachers and a system still being fine-tuned.
50 years later and we still can’t figure this out. The prestige schools in the 1970s are still the prestige schools of today. Parents are known to bestow huge rewards on their children for success and to severely punish if their placement is not to the desired standard of excellence. Primary schools focus only on language and mathematics, to the detriment of art, music and sports, because those activities will supposedly have no bearing on success at SEA. At home, children are subjected to hours of homework and revision, with no time for play or relaxation. Children from the age of 9 are suffering from anxiety, nightmares, headaches, depression and countless other behaviors, stemming from this examination. Children have committed suicide due to the pressures arising from this day. And as much as some parents may try to hide their own emotions, they are also contributing their negative energies to an already volatile child.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m not blaming parents. I believe that the vast majority are doing their best with the skills that they have. They believe that a “prestige” secondary school is going to provide a doorway to better. They know that their kids are under pressure but in many instances, don’t know what to do about it. My question is… why aren’t we pressuring the government and ministry of education to make changes? Why isn’t this a more prevalent issue at election time? Strength is in numbers and if 18000 children are sitting this exam annually, that’s a lot of parents whose voices can be heard if they unite.