FORMER chief education officer Harrilal Seecharan said an average of 14,000 students who sit the annual Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam are left dissatisfied and unhappy because of the stiff competition for the 4,500 spaces in the top-performing schools which are beyond their reach.
His observation came at the start of the virtual month-long national consultation on Tuesday night, as the argument for the retention or removal of the SEA took centre stage.
Seecharan said, “I think we need to keep in mind what the Minister (Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly) identified as the three fundamental pillars – equity, quality and access to education.
"The Prime Minister hinted about the skills set we would like our students leaving primary and secondary schools to have. If we were to look at the primary school system, one would agree that the SEA is the only one thing that has the most significant impact.”
Both Gadsby-Dolly and Dr Rowley addressed the consultation.
Seecharan said, “As we go through the discussion we need to keep in mind what is the purpose of SEA, which is simply the placement exam.
"But we also need to keep in mind the role of SEA and the impact and the influence it has on the primary school education system, and whether it is in fact supporting or actually working counter to those skills and competencies that our students come out of primary schools with.
“Every year we have a number of students writing the exams essentially competing for 4,500 school places in certain schools. We therefore have an average of 14,000 who don’t get first choice and are either dissatisfied, or may be to some degree unhappy, and that translates into requests for reviews, queries or request for transfers.”
Explaining this is linked to a lack of understanding of the criteria of the placement process, he hoped that as the conversation continues, “We get a chance to look at some of these and whether in fact the SEA is serving our needs in terms of the outcomes which is the bigger issue at the primary school level.”
Lecture at the School of Education, UWI, Prof Jerome Delisle also joined the conversation, hosted by educator Clare Telemaque and carried live on TTT.
He said he had studied policy as far as high-stakes exams are concerned and: “One of the things I have learnt is that there is no perfect policy. Each society must look at the benefits and compare it with the disadvantages of consequences.”
Delisle, who has done researched the effects of the SEA and how gender and geography play out in terms of its outcomes, said recently he has been seeing societies which also have the ability to lessen or reduce those consequences.
Pointing out that the SEA, which was seen as a way to achieve fairness, has been in effect for a long time, he said in 2020, "We have to ask ourselves, is the SEA still doing that, more than to look at the alternatives.
“Do the alternatives provide a fairer opportunity? As TT grows and matures and becomes more reflective, we have the opportunity to really look at these societies as we create our own path.”
President of the National Primary Schools Association (NAPSA) Lance Mottley welcomed the opportunity to participate in what he called an important discourse and pledged the commitment of all primary school principals to the process.
Ronald Mootoo, president of the Association of Principals of Public Secondary Schools, made out a case for the role of continuous assessment in the primary schools to be revisited.