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Sunday 15 September 2019
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Education puzzlements

REGINALD DUMAS

THE way we use it here, the word “educator” appears to mean someone expert in matters educational. I’m certainly not that. But one thing I do know: no country in the world can make progress without a sound education base, including relevant, creative and forward-looking systems and policies.

And such systems and policies must constantly target the welfare of the society as a whole, lest discriminatory and inequitable fissures of all kinds, damaging to the society as a whole, appear and widen. In recent Express articles, Nigel Henry gave several examples of education discontinuities which were based on his review of leaked 2018 SEA data. If those examples are substantially valid, we have a serious problem.

Henry spoke of distortions by several denominational schools of the rules of the 1960 Concordat, a political document which, exalted by the religious (though excoriated by the secular), has acquired an almost mystical aura. It says in part: “The Principals [of assisted secondary schools] will be free to allocate, up to 20 per centum, the remaining places, as they see fit, provided normally that the pass list of the Common Entrance Examination serves to provide the pupils.”

Henry alleged that a number of such schools have been able to exceed this 20 per cent maximum. If so, how? Who supervises the operation of the Concordat? Does that operation conduce to societal equity? The Chief Education Officer, Harrilal Seecharan, sought to refute Henry’s charge, saying among other things that it was “no secret” that Principals of some schools had “a discretionary percentage”. What does that mean? For his part, Henry is reported as saying he stood by “the majority” of what he had written. How is “majority” defined?

Henry gave cases of students being jumped over those who performed better – in one case, he said, a student who placed 11,343rd leapt over 380 others to get the final spot at the Couva East Secondary School. How would this have happened? Who made the decision? Why? Nor, according to Henry, did the Ministry “adequately inform parents and/or principals of which schools [were] eligible to be selected…” If so, why?

And Henry spoke of “two populations of students [in each government-run school], those who pass for the school because it is one of their choices, and they surpass a merit-placement ‘cut-off’ grade, and a second group who fall below the grade but live near the school.” He added: “This dual system of a merit-based matching process and a geographic-based zoning system with arbitrary school-specific cut-offs between the two systems leads to some bizarre outcomes.” I can well imagine that.

It seems that each (government?) school has its own “pre-determined, arbitrary, unpublished ‘cut-off’ grade.” Students choosing a school must not only have a higher score than others who have made the same choice, they must also score above the school’s “cut-off” mark. What is the authority for this “cut-off” level? How is the level determined? If each school decides on its own level, what effect is there on educational, and across-the-board developmental, coherence in TT?

But, remarkably, the “cut-off” policy doesn’t affect students who don’t achieve that level for any of their schools of choice. Such students are “assigned to a school based on their geographic community” even if they score below the “cut-off” point for that school. The logic (if “logic” is the word) defeats me. How does it function in practice?

In February 2016, the Minister of Education announced a National Consultation on Education which would “build an education system that (would) be the envy of all”. I see. His Ministry later published a Draft Education Policy Paper 2017-2022. Surprisingly, however, in neither the Paper’s Executive Summary nor the Minister’s Foreword is there any mention of the Consultation. Indeed, he says that his Ministry “has developed its (Policy Paper)”, a phrase which appears to render the “national consultation” irrelevant.

Being able to write nicely and count correctly is good. But being able to think analytically and communicate effectively is crucial. Then you can start on the long road to being “the envy of all”.

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