It’s that time of year again when the dreams of red-blooded Trinidadian parents of 11-year-old children turn to nightmares and their lives fill with anxiety as they ponder and wonder at the SEA exam, which they all would fail miserably if they had to take and which their children are submitted to.
It’s no joke to say that any adult in T&T would fail the SEA exam. I have many parents who are teachers whom all agree that the SEA syllabus is far too difficult, is too dependent on memory and that the main focus of primary school education is the SEA exam with little emphasis on teaching children how to learn and to enjoy learning. Instead of informed wonder, dross regurgitation.
In May 2017, one teacher wrote in the newspapers that “during my 18 years of teaching mathematics at the secondary school level, I had never encountered some of the mathematical terms that ten and 11-year-olds were being forced to learn”. She says she “had to resort to the dictionary to find some of those definitions” and was “amazed to see some of the topics I was teaching pupils of Forms 1, 2 and 3, were also being taught in Standards 4 and 5”. Extraordinary comments from an experienced, competent teacher.
When Science was part of the Common Entrance, primary school children were forced to learn medical school concepts. When these children entered medical school they had forgotten everything.
Children become so traumatised with the SEA that many end up in doctors’ offices complaining of “belly pains” and “chest pains” and “headaches” and “lacking energy” and “cah sleep” and “constipated”.
The only things more constipated than SEA candidates are the minds of the officials in the Ministry of Education.
After I became Head of the Advisory Committee on Special Education, I was shocked to learn that there were technical advisers in the Ministry of Education who did not believe in Special Education and that included one Minister of Education. They believed there were children who were simply irresponsible. “These children refuse to learn. You cannot teach them! ”
One got the impression they were interested in academically oriented students and considered anything else a waste of their time.
These were the people setting the standards in the ministry. Hopefully, most have retired although occasionally one reads something in the papers that makes one doubtful.
So it’s not only the SEA teaching setup, it’s the entire educational system which is stuck in the colonial age, set up by the British years ago to fill their needs and now abandoned by them while we wallow in platitudes and old-time clichés, forcing students to memorise and be rewarded with scholarships, and punishing the truly smart and individualistic children with bygone labels.
I’ve had scholarship winning medical students, so lacking in common decency, that they refused to examine malnourished children because “they too dirty” and then had the gall to report me to the dean who then had the gall to call me and ask why I had suspended the student. No prize then for why I resigned after 18 years of teaching about half the doctors who now practice in the country.
Simply listen to what our President said in January 2019 about the educational system: “For six years I taught the course ‘Ethics, Rights & Responsibilities of the Legal Profession’. I was disappointed to find that a significant percentage of the students, among them scholarship winners and other high achievers, were lazy and dishonest, had a sense of entitlement, and wanted maximum return for minimum effort. It was clear these failings of character had been carried over from their earlier interaction with the education system”.
What could be clearer? The educational system, like so many other systems in the country stinks and needs to be reformed from the bottom up with parents and teachers taking the lead. The bureaucrats in the MoE will not do it.