What is SEA?
For generations in Trinidad and Tobago, the education system has required that all final year, primary school students write this examination to determine which high schools they are eligible for. This is one of the most critical and highly competitive events in these 11 to 12 year old’s lives. The SEA format consists of three papers in the subjects of creative writing, mathematics and the language arts. The students’ grades will decide whether they will be eligible to enroll in their chosen high school. Often there is a high demand for so called ‘prestige schools’ as not all institutions have equal status and resources.
For many years, people have called for change due to the weight that SEA carries in determining a child’s long term future. This is why nations like Barbados have made moves to eliminate the assessment entirely and focus on creating equitable education institutions across the island.
Why is there a need for change?
Because the exam has been used to assess generations of students, there is disagreement over why there is a need for change when the process has ‘worked’ for so many others. This is a sentiment that has been echoed by the local government who tries to hold onto power by keeping the status quo. In an interview with the Global Green News Dr. Hosein said, “You try to do anything radically different to transform the society, a bunch of people will jump on your neck.” While many will not dispute the amount of stress associated with taking the exam there is not enough dialogue on the social inequalities associated with it.
‘Prestige schools’ often comes up in conversations surrounding the SEA. These are institutions that are known to have many more resources available for their students at both the primary and secondary levels. This has created an education divide and pits students against each other for a spot in these secondary schools. The students who are lucky enough to attend these schools are given the tools needed to build a successful future, while those that are ineligible are sent to less prestigious institutions with relatively less resources. The students themselves are often on uneven ground as well due to financial and resource inequalities. On this point, Hosein said to Global Green News, “It’s luck if you have parents who were keen on your educational pursuits, it’s luck if you have financially well off parents, if you could afford extra lessons.” It is hoped that by reducing these gaps through governmental policy there will be a fairer education system in the country.
“one of the richest countries in the region and how we have failed in the past 50, 60 years to address our most fundamental issues when it comes to education”Dr. Everold Hosein to Global Green News
An overhauled education system
Dr. Everold Hosein and the Green Party of Trinidad and Tobago have proposed a number of solutions and possible frameworks to address this issue. He said to Global Green News, “a good education is a focus on good character development, it’s not on learning a bunch of skills which enables you to pass standardized exams.” He suggested that character development may come from the implementation of more arts programs within the schooling system, instead of just being reserved as an optional program in some ‘prestige schools’. His proposals for overhauling the education system focuses on ensuring proper child development at a young age. The Greens propose universal childcare to aid in facilitating this crucial developmental stage in children’s lives before they enter the education systems.
They also propose changing the schooling format altogether at both the primary and secondary levels as a way to abolish the ‘prestige school’ system. “We have enough builders and engineers in Trinidad, we can build 200 schools in 4 years,” said Hosein to Global Green News. These schools would accept children anywhere from the age of 9 months to 16 years old. This would mimic the Scandinavian schooling systems by not having transitional assessments between primary and secondary schools. These schools would all be on the same level of curriculum, infrastructure and resources with an emphasis on continuous assessment rather than standardized tests. Furthermore, teachers would be required to have a master’s degree to teach. However, this raises the question about what would be done with the existing ‘prestige schools’ and their buildings? He suggests that they be used as part of the tertiary education program to provide vocational education to people from age 17 and beyond, as part of the existing University of the West Indies. “I have the view that every child should have an opportunity to have at least two years of University education,” says Dr. Hosein to Global Green News.
However, all of these proposed solutions are still up for debate. Due to the current Covid-19 situation in Trinidad and Tobago, resources have been focused elsewhere and students are still set to write the SEA exam on June 10th unless the Covid situation worsens.