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Sunday 21 April 2019
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Commentary

The case for scrapping SEA

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

THE EDITOR: I was left totally confused when I read the article “Don’t abolish SEA” in the Sunday Newsday of March 31. Thinking that my eyes were deceiving me and that I had misinterpreted what I had read, I removed my spectacles, gave them a thorough cleaning and proceeded to reread the article not once, not twice but thrice.
Contrary to what was indicated in the title and perhaps unwittingly so, the article seemed to present an argument for the abolition of the SEA exam.
Still bewildered and needing verification, I turned to another Sunday newspaper that had also published a synopsis of the UWI professor’s SEA lecture. Having read both accounts, I concluded that both newspapers could not have misquoted the professor, and that what had been printed was an accurate representation of his views. I was aghast. I found it hard to believe that these were the utterances of a professor attached to the School of Education, UWI (no less).
Remarkably, the professor says, “The kind of fairness given to students who sit the SEA should be carefully looked at. When students succeed at SEA...there should be an analysis of whether the rewards given to them are fair. For those students who do not perform well...the reasons for this must be carefully analysed.”
Shouldn’t this analysis be a fait accompli? After all, the SEA exam has been in existence since 2001 and we are now in 2019. Isn’t the professor a member of an institution of higher learning that is supposed to be at the forefront of educational research in TT? The problem is that in this country, unlike in more progressive countries, policy decision-making is not data-driven.
Equally remarkable is the fact that the professor does not provide one shred of evidence as to why the SEA should not be abolished – an argument that he purports to support. He simply states that there are “studies which show the merits of 11-plus exams like SEA.” Which studies? What merits?
Instead of identifying the merits of the SEA exam (even one would have sufficed), he goes to great lengths to pinpoint, paradoxically, its demerits. He commences to air a laundry list of negative beliefs, attitudes and behaviours associated with the SEA exam, but remains mum on its positives, except to say that SEA is a “big tool.” This is almost laughable.
Moreover, the professor cites Norway and Singapore as countries that have invested in education, yet he fails to mention that these very countries (along with all the other top performers that have first-class educational systems, for example, Finland, Denmark, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, even Estonia) do not expose their precious nine, ten and 11-year-olds to an exam as destructive as the one he supports.
Why can’t we look, listen and learn from these countries, instead of clinging to an outdated British colonial, elitist educational system that is failing our young people and from which we are already receiving a backlash?
Truth be told, there are some people who benefit from the social stratification in our society. They therefore have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The “big tool” serves this purpose.
By retaining the SEA exam (in its present form or revamped), upward mobility of the masses through education will not be achieved because of the inequalities inherent in the traditional versus the non-traditional schools (as the professor describes them). This is the hidden agenda; let’s be real.
As Lee Elliot Major and Stephen Machin, authors of Social Mobility And Its Enemies, highlight (in The Guardian, UK, September 27, 2018), “Low mobility’s legacy is a self-interested, self-perpetuating elite that neglects the rest of society.”
In this Easter season, where Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I appeal to those progressive-thinking educators in TT (I know you are out there, frustrated and perhaps afraid to speak out) to not be silent as the grave. Rise, come forth and lobby ferociously for a change in this insidious educational system that has taken root in our country.

IRIS LEONA MARIE CROSS, Tunapuna

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