Is more school enough?

Dr Gabrielle Hosein -
Dr Gabrielle Hosein -


IF YOU are sensible, you didn’t call up the parents of children, whose SEA results came out last week, to ask about what school they were assigned. Results tell us there was real disappointment in nearly 10,000 households, requiring compassion and sensitivity.

Many parents and children waited up to midnight to find out what perhaps should have been available from 8 am the next day, for finding out about passing for a third or fourth-choice school at that time can be overwhelming. There is just so much we don’t think about in terms of our emotional lives as we walk children through their academic journey.

Successful children focused on the achievement of getting their first choice, rather than getting into a good school or doing well in terms of their exam marks. Children who didn’t get into their first choice, but still passed for a great school, would have been disappointed and perhaps ashamed.

As the ministry is trying to move away from hierarchy and stigma, keep this in mind. A few marks could impact first and second-choice placement, which is also determined by the competition for places in the school.

I knew two students whose overall marks differed by one per cent. One got into his first choice the other was placed in her second. Imagine the difference in emotions they felt because “first choice” has become such a marker of status instead of how well they did on the exam, or even how settled they could feel about the quality of their school.

Parents of children with third or fourth-choice placements need a day when a school guidance counsellor or principal can help them to identify the best options for their child. Send him or her to a fourth-choice option, resit the exam or seek lessons? Were the challenges academic, related to undiagnosed learning difficulties or a child’s emotional challenges?

It is excellent to provide remedial mathematics and English language classes to the thousands of students who scored less than 50 per cent this year.

According to press reports, 27.81 per cent (5,305 pupils), of the 19,079 pupils who wrote the exam, scored 30 per cent or below. The number of those who scored above 50 per cent totalled to 37.06 per cent. Only 0.47 per cent of pupils (89 pupils) scored above 90 per cent. The majority of students are therefore incapable of managing Form 1 next year, whether academically or emotionally (and they are connected), given these results. Beyond remedial classes over the holidays, it simply cannot be school as usual in September.

We continue to underestimate four key things. The impact of domestic violence on children given that, among Caribbean countries, Trinidad and Tobago recorded one of the highest percentage increases in domestic violence during the pandemic. The impact of unreported child abuse including child sexual abuse which all data would suggest increased as children were kept home for two years (reports to the Children’s Authority tend to be highest in May and October when children return from school vacation). The impact of increased poverty as, in July 2021, UNICEF reported a projected increase in severe poverty for children from two per cent pre-pandemic to 18 per cent as a result of the pandemic. And, undiagnosed learning challenges related to neurodiversity, disability and trauma.

Added to remedial teaching, could these children be assessed to find out how much of their results are related to a need for more school, taught in the same neurotypical way, or a need for something else that early intervention can better tackle?

Zi was completing SEA practice tests at school and attending lessons twice a week, but her math marks were simply not improving though both her teachers were very good. We pulled out a giant whiteboard and started to teach her in extremely specific, visual ways. Her marks doubled in two months. Regardless of how many practice tests she did or how often her teachers went over the material in the same ways, that would just not have happened.

If we provide remedial education to students who are being failed by current teaching approaches, we may still be setting them up to think they are not capable in subjects at which they could excel, because we didn’t recognise their learning or emotional issues.

Covid19 and online learning (and its lack) made a huge difference on children’s marks, but we will be missing children’s other realities if we reduced their results, and our response, to just that.

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 468


"Is more school enough?"

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