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TTUTA head: SEA perpetuates inequity

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 13 2014

click on pic to zoom in
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association Davanand Sinanan....
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association Davanand Sinanan....

President of the Trinidad & Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) Davanand Sinanan believes that the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) perpetuates inequity and marginalisation among a broad section of the country’s student population.

“The SEA, in its current configuration, perpetuates a two-tired secondary school system that is characterised by inequity and marginalisation of large segments of the student population. This should not be the objective of education,” he said in a Sunday Newsday interview.

“Good education systems should ensure that all students have equitable opportunity to realise their maximum human potential, so that they can add value to their own lives and the society in which they live.”

Sinanan said any system that focuses on the success of a few and ignores the achievement of the majority is detrimental to the growth and development of the country.

“Indeed this system causes large numbers of people to feel that they are unjustly and unfairly treated and this can lead to social upheaval/unrest. This is evident in the high levels of crime and deviance currently witnessed in the society,” he said.

Speaking in the wake of the release of the SEA exam results, on July 2, Sinanan described the system as elitist, saying it served to perpetuate a class differential, consistent with colonial societies.

“Too many students feel that despite the fact that they are being given a chance to access secondary education, this is not enough for them to bridge the social gap and climb up the social ladder. As a consequence, they reject what is being offered at the school and map out alternative pathways to attain social status and respect, because they realise that education is being used as an elaborate means of segregation,” Sinanan said.

He asked: “How else can you explain the reality that despite thousands of students ‘passing’ the SEA every year, there is the feeling of failure on their part because they were not able to enter a select group of schools?

“These students break down in tears and are made to feel that they are now doomed to a dismal and failed future because they are inferior. Parents also feel dejected and anguished to the point where they also mentally ‘write-off’ their children as failures.”

Sinanan said the feelings of hopelessness that the exercise brings each year “lays the foundation for thousands of young persons to effectively reject the formal school system and seek out other ways to success.”

“As a country, we cannot afford to continue to marginalise large segments of the society,” he said.

Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh has said he would like to “do away” with the SEA so that students, at such a young age, would not have to go through the stress and trauma of sitting what he regarded as a make or break exam for secondary school places.

While TTUTA has not adopted a formal position on the issue, Sinanan said there were many persons in the association who feel that the time has come to dispense with the “high stakes dimension” of the SEA, in favour of an “assessment for learning” rather than an “assessment of learning.”

He added: “In this way, it will be an exercise that is conducted to ensure that all students acquire a certain level of numeracy and literacy skills and therefore, can seamlessly move onto a secondary school to be able to competently access the curriculum. This would mean the move from high stakes evaluation to formative assessment.”

Sinanan contends that because of the socio-political and historical factors that have given rise to the SEA, it will be extremely difficult to abolish the exam in its current configuration.

“However that should not prevent us as a nation from considering alternatives to secondary placement that will give each student a fair and equitable chance at achieving success that will lay a strong foundation for their life-long development and prospects,” he said.

“This requires a great deal of political will and courage given our history as a young, independent nation. Successful education systems are not characterised by competition through high-stakes testing, certainly not at this level. Education quality does not improve when schools compete over enrolment.”

Sinanan argued that the provision of school choice leads to persons using all kinds of unscientific yardsticks to determine school quality and these myths soon lead to entrenched systems that, essentially, discriminate based on socio-economic status, which, in turn, feeds inequity.

He told Sunday Newsday that data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate that where equity increases, the quality of education increases.

According to the OECD, Sinanan said, the top five education systems in the world - Canada, Japan, Korea, Estonia and Hong Kong - are all characterised by education systems that place a high premium on equity.

Sinanan said the first step to dismantling the SEA, which he described as an elaborate system of discrimination, is to remove the element of choice and take the bold move to zone students going into secondary school, just like what obtains in the primary schools.

“In this way, there will be a more equitable distribution of students and the communities will ‘own’ schools and thus, be prompted to work with the schools to improve overall performance. This will lead to a more level playing field and reduce the levels of marginalisation that many students feel, ” he said.

Sinanan said schools should also be given more autonomy to define curricula and assessment systems that will take into consideration the peculiar circumstances of each school community.

He said: “Formative assessment should replace all high stakes evaluations so that a broader range of skills and aptitudes can be nurtured and developed, thereby leaving the child to develop in a more holistic manner.

“As a nation, we must also be clear about the kind of society we want to build and thus, the kinds of human beings that will compose this society. Then the schools will be guided to design and develop curricula that will produce such citizens,” Sinanan added.

Sinanan said the population and its leaders must be clear about the nature and purpose of education.

“The notion of schools being places that produce workers belongs in the old European factory era and was never designed to create critical and innovative thinkers,” he argued.

“Schooling and education must not be seen in the very narrow confines of certification and the passage of examinations, but rather in the context of the development of the total human being. Anything less will be inimical and detrimental to the realisation of our nation’s full potential.”

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