The way I see it, I’ve got four years to convince the nation that we need to get rid of the Secondary Entrance Assessment.
Normally, I use this space to talk about tech, and particularly tech I’ve used to experiment and make new things. So, as you can imagine, I’m not going to leave that alone. In fact, I think it plays a key role in perhaps what we should be doing instead of SEA.
Why four years? If nothing meaningful changes, then my eldest child’s class will be in the firing line. You might say, “gosh, well, that’s selfish”. You might be right. But it also shows I’ve got skin in the game. I’m not just preaching from a pulpit of inexperience. I want to positively impact the world that my children engage with.
So, Abolish SEA.
What’s wrong with it? Currently, it feels like the point of primary school in Trinidad and Tobago. Your children start off in first year, and you can feel the building anxiety toward this hurdle. Maybe parents like myself have too many fancy notions about early education. That it should be fun. That it should show many doorways. That it should be forgiving.
Instead, reports have indicated that children’s feelings coming out of the SEA process into form 1 range from low self-esteem to strained parent-child relationships to burnout. Of course, I’m not the only person calling for either a review, removal or change of the SEA.
My own take on the SEA starts with recognizing the context in which SEA sits. It’s an assessment for continuing education from primary to secondary education. In Trinidad & Tobago, many years ago, it was determined that everyone gets placed after SEA. The whole point of the exam is where a child is placed.
Placement then determines the next leg of the race, the pressure doesn’t drop, it only redirects, from get top marks in SEA to go to a “good school” to get top marks in CSEC to “win a scholarship”.
But are there other placement strategies? Especially at the primary-secondary school leap. Why not leverage early academic performance instead? Now, I promised tech. Here’s some of it. If SEA is a standard measure, why not use standard measures throughout the primary school system?
Apparently, the standard measures are already taken. It’s not a new thing. If they aren’t already digital, they should be. That’ll make the next thing easier. For those who want preferred placement, they should be able to access that on the basis of their standard measures. Collecting, collating and using that data is not a significant challenge.
There’s a question in that paragraph above, but it might have been missed, because it wasn’t obvious. It’s this: What if I don’t want preferred placement? What if the vast majority of families don’t care for the gauntlet of SEA? What if they could simply ignore the exam and allow their children to be placed in schools that are selected based on reasonable characteristics, like geography?
Those children can know where they’re going from early. Families can begin “investing” in their child’s designated school far earlier. I won’t try to describe investing. But it can be varied, supportive and welcome.
So, back to “preferred placement”, instead of more recommendations from the hip. I’ll use this space to update with findings on what alternatives exist. However, if it’s found that a low percentage of parents actually want this, then more data should be collected. This is also not just a data-collection exercise.
There’s a need for society to imagine something else, to look at the system as a whole, it’s actors, processes and infrastructure and deliberately produce something new. In the past, calls of this nature could have easily fallen in the “hopes and dreams” bucket. What’s different now?
We’re just emerging from the global pandemic that demonstrated that governments, businesses and citizens all can find extremely creative solutions to issues if we consider them important enough. SEA is a problem. Perhaps not for the 200* scholars who receive commendation at the end of secondary school. And perhaps not for the 1700* families who feel good that their child passed for their “1st choice” after SEA. But for the 90%* of families who have to live with the results, we can find a better way. We don’t need to wait for another pandemic to do that.
*PS: Those numbers are made up.