Judge chides Education Ministry over SEA exam scripts

The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. - JEFF K MAYERS
The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. - JEFF K MAYERS

THE EDUCATION Ministry has come in for criticism from a High Court judge for failing to review a decades-old agreement with the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) over examination scripts, although TT courts have pronounced on the issue on more than one occasion in the past.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Justice Devindra Rampersad said, “It is a difficult pill to swallow that one party to an agreement, forged 18 years ago, without any disclosed attempt to review it, can unilaterally impose an alleged policy without question by the other in a manner that can materially affect a citizen of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

“That pill is made even more bitter by the fact that a competent court...has opined forcefully on the matter without any apparent attempt to address the situation,”

The judge was asked to declare on a judicial review claim brought by the mother of a Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) student who challenged the ministry’s decision to deny her a copy of her daughter’s 2018 SEA examination script.

The child scored high marks in her mock examinations and got marks of 88 percent in English writing, 92 per cent in Mathematics and 77 per cent in Language Arts.

Her marks were revised by the ministry, which saw the percentages going down. The discrepancy was raised with the ministry, which then corrected the scores to reflect the previous ones. Because of this, the mother sought to obtain a copy of her daughter’s exam scripts.

The case was one of three in as many years on the property rights of examination scripts. In 2017 and earlier this year, two judges have held that exam scripts were documents for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Rampersad’s ruling on Tuesday were in line with those of his colleagues as he declared that the decision by the ministry to refuse the mother access to the scripts was illegal, irrational, unfair and amounted to a breach of the provisions of the FOIA.

The ministry had argued that the transcripts were the property of CXC and there were immunities attached to an SEA agreement signed by Caricom countries, including TT, with the Barbados-based examination body.

The ministry argued it only acted as a local conduit to collect the scripts to send to CXC for marking. and they are never returned, but remain at CXC’s headquarters for a certain time. By the time the mother filed her request, the scripts would have been destroyed.

However, Rampersad said in his decision, “There is no doubt that the Government of TT is charged with the education of the children of the nation – a responsibility delegated to the Ministry of Education.

“It has to be the duty of the Ministry to carry out that responsibility to the best of its ability without further delegating that responsibility to a body outside of TT, notwithstanding the 1972 and 2001 agreements.”

He said despite the two decisions by Justices Ronnie Boodoosingh and Margaret Mohammed on the same issue, the ministry has revealed no steps to correct the position.

“That in itself is inexplicable and seems almost contemptuous of the decision of a Superior Court in a country based on a written constitution. The question which may well arise at some point as to whether the alleged immunity granted to a foreign based entity, and seemingly relied upon and revered without question by the defendant and or the ministry as the basis for inaction, can affect the rights of a citizen protected under a written Republican Constitution," he asked, although admitting the issue was not one the court had to determine.

He ordered the ministry to pay the mother’s legal costs. The child’s mother was represented by Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan and attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Jared Jagroo and Douglas Bayley. Attorneys Natoya Moore and Vincent Jardine represented the permanent secretary of the Education Ministry. Most recently, CXC has come under fire over the grading of the July 2020 CSEC and CAPE examinations.


"Judge chides Education Ministry over SEA exam scripts"

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