In a few short weeks, thousands of Trinbagonian children will receive their SEA (Secondary Entrance Assessment) exam results; for most of them it will be their trajectory of life set in stone, at the ripe old age of 11 or 12.
It will set the tone for the template of two-tiered systems that dominate the nation’s society and directly feeds the outcomes that lead to the runaway crime that currently, cannot be arrested.
In a few months’ time, the Trinbagonian people will have the latest national budget read to them and be told that, as per usual, a sizeable chunk of funds will be allocated to education, as it should be. Yet, the same issues of mass inequality within the secondary school system will persist, meaning that the country continues the bad business sense of throwing money into a structure that is not working and worse, that directly facilitates the disparity that supports the woes of T&T. It may be the education sector, but it does not mean it engages in smart spend.
We are acutely aware of the issue; the most recent utterings from the Prime Minister about the secondary school entrance aspect about SEA is only the latest observation of its disadvantages and how it hinders the evolvement of a society. For decades, the nation—indeed the region—has recognised the problem and the best that they have come up with is a change of name from ‘Common Entrance’ to ‘SEA’.
No doubt, it is extremely difficult to find an alternative. Do we undertake the Junior, Middle and High School model of North American schools? Can we introduce secondary schooling by postal areas? Unlikely, but we need to have the national conversation to explore options and table them for consideration, because future generations await and the reversal of the dire crime statistic has many potential foundations in the classrooms, ALL of the classrooms.
We seek to instil critical thinking into those young minds at SEA level and above, but for our secondary education we need to recognise certain realities and practice creative thinking.
Thinking that suits our situation, culture and the requirements of the students. Thinking that has clear targets of achievement within behavioural change, by creating innovative cultures rather than solely concentrating on lessons. Thinking that possesses the boldness to offer new, untapped opportunities.
The first piece of reality is that we are unlikely to change the SEA system, or any derivatives of it, at any time in the near future. In the first instance, we would have to come to the groundbreaking decision that we are going to eliminate it, in the second instance we would have the considerable task of deriving a viable and fair alternative.
Given this truth, while the damaging disparity of “elite schools versus the rest” remains in place, the logical approach to tackle the disparate trajectory, is to find novel ways to empower the students of “the rest.” If the entrance system to secondary schools will not change soon, then change the floundering secondary schools through creative thinking. Thereby reducing the effects of a life being mapped out before one reaches teenage years, by giving these students a second (and third, fourth, if necessary) chance of success.
Currently, the alternative that is provided is to learn a trade. It is a good opportunity, one to be commended, with stipends, transport and on-the-job training but it cannot appeal to all, and its scope is limited in offering only a certain career, when what we require is the offering of a culture.
The ‘elite’ schools create a sense of pride and self-worth, through instilling lessons in legacy, values and tribalism, with many of these teachings coming from outside the traditional classroom. There is a sense of belonging to something larger than a simple place of learning and difficult as it is to fathom doing the same to a former senior comprehensive that has been renamed, it is possible.
Entities exist to be mimicked or even better, engaged. Example, a similar movement to the Scouts would create the appreciation of the true T&T, a sense of awareness of the physical beauty that is ours, creating pride. Homegrown programmes ,such as Don Jacobs’ ‘Don Jitsu Ryu’, are current portals for culture shifts by creating an all-encompassing positive mindset. Numerous other similar curricula can be tapped into, if the intention is to encourage a lifestyle; our schools are the only place that offer the opportunity to do so in the formative years.
It is not about solely applying the concept of extra-curricular activities such as sport, that can be avoided or are forgotten about upon leaving the school compound, but rather bringing modules that will garner immediate interest and buy-in by the students.
If such opportunities were offered upon entry to schools that are below par, it would be a case of grabbing them young, creating exposure to positivity, to tackle the pervading negative influence of the ills of T&T. And yes, we must have the courage to introduce sex education into schools.
We must make our education sector nimble to cope with the 21st century and the segments of degradation that exist globally, instead of continuing with a hamstrung behemoth tied down by a decades-old colonial system that has long passed its inheritance value.
We have made the correlation between our schooling and crime, now it is time to make the corrections.
Sheldon Waithe is the Creative Director at Communique Media Services Ltd website: communiquett.com