SEA more worrisome than mandatory jabs

Parents and students line up outside St Gabriel's Girls Primary School in San Fernando to receive their SEA results. Photo by Lincoln Holder - Lincoln Holder
Parents and students line up outside St Gabriel's Girls Primary School in San Fernando to receive their SEA results. Photo by Lincoln Holder - Lincoln Holder

SOME people have recently climbed onto soapboxes to voice unjustified disquiet over the prospect of children being “forced” to take covid19 vaccines that will protect them from danger.

But what about the far more insidious, indeed harmful, mandatory ritual to which we subject tens of thousands of children yearly?

Thursday saw the release of Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) results for roughly 20,000 students across the country.

For many, it was a day of joy and triumph; for others, heartbreak and disappointment.

For all, it was a day that should never have happened.

Our country boasts billion-dollar budgets, a relatively high GDP and an economy which, despite its vagaries, has pushed our standard of living to new heights. Governments have, in the decades since independence, overseen the most elaborate mega-projects. Our nationals have won Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals and achieved the pinnacles of success in myriad professional spheres all over the world.

And yet we have not figured out a way to end the trauma of the SEA.

Want to talk about “forcing” children? Then let us talk about the fact that, at the height of an unprecedented global pandemic last year, students were made to sit the SEA – at a time when few people on earth fully knew or understood what exactly covid19 was or what impact it might have on the human body in the long term.

Though our first prime minister, the PNM’s Dr Eric Williams, expressed the central role of education when he said, “The future of our nation is in our children’s book bags,” it was only in 2001, under a UNC administration, that the milestone of universal secondary school education was achieved (though, as with all things political, this is disputed). Certainly in that year the infamous Common Entrance examination was jettisoned.

And yet, for all intents and purposes, we have replaced it with the same thing by another name: a distinction without a difference.

Every child is in theory guaranteed a place. But children were not zoned to attend schools near their homes, nor resources reallocated to reduce the pull of the so-called prestige schools. The exam is as competitive as ever – and sends all the wrong signals to children – as when ministers visit the “best-performing” primary schools to congratulate the “best” pupils.

The world has turned away from high-stakes, test-based placement mechanisms, but we doggedly cling on.

Anxiety, depression, nightmares, psychotic behaviour, headaches, fever, vomiting, pains, rashes and unwillingness to attend school – these are just some of the results, observed first-hand by psychiatrists treating children before, during and after this examination.

And that’s just the children. Entire families are affected by the stress and societal pressures involved.

Think the covid19 jab is the enemy? Another real enemy to the lifelong well-being of our children is right beneath our noses.


"SEA more worrisome than mandatory jabs"

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