Tomorrow, thousands of Trinidadian and Tobagonian children, between the ages of ten to twelve will go through an ancient rite of passage. This ordeal is so intense, that it can be likened to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games novel, they anticipate it for years before, parents wait with dread. As in the books, those who can afford it, prepare, hundreds of hours of extra lessons, coaching, giving up your life for that one day that will define the next seven years, those that can't, well do your best.
Sounds pretty barbaric doesn't it? While these children do not have to kill anyone to survive, their self esteem, peace of mind and their very childhood, is marked with a stress that is at best unfair, and at worst, draconian. I am referring to the SEA, the exam that marks the passage from elementary school to high school. This is the test that "places" you, hopefully, into a school of your (parents) choice.
Short summary of the circumstances. In Trinidad and Tobago, you do not necessarily attend school in and around your neighbourhood. Theoretically, parents can sign their kids up to go to primary/elementary school anywhere in the country. The reality is that most parents either pick a school close to their workplace or on the basis that it will provide the best preparation for the SEA Exam. Children are often forced to get up in the wee hours of the morning, get ready for school, then sit in traffic with their parents or sometimes on their own using public transport to get to school. Now if this were 1912 that would be one thing, but it is 2012! This is reinforced when they get to high school age. Parents then pick schools based on stellar academic performance, perceived teaching standards etc. All laudable, but children are taught from a very early age that if you don't get into one of the "prestige" schools, you're literally screwed. A failure, at age 11 plus. That's the short story anyway.
Now there is nothing wrong with testing, tests measure your knowledge and can form a basis for assessment. However, they should never be the only assessment tool. Though life can be changed by the outcome of one day, you didn't commit a crime so for something like this,why should your life be predicated on the result of one day. Why, you ask, would any parent willingly put their children through something like that? Why would any right thinking parent want to subject their child to untold stress and strain? Why aren't parents calling for real education reform? Universal teaching standards? Continuous assessment? Zoning of schools so children can form bonds within their communities? Why aren't parents concerned that all children receive the best education possible? But it appears that we are that selfish.
As a country that says we are committed to achieving first world ideals we continue to be loath to put them into practice. Before you call me a liar, read any of the daily newspapers, follow social media or talk to anybody in a rum shop. Whether it is educational reform or our seeming ability to use a walkover instead of running across the road, we complain and moan about the same things over and over, even when the fixes are obvious and even easy. What is even stranger, parents themselves have been through this horror and perpetuate it. Many of us have been to non-prestige schools and have not only survived but in fact gone on to be productive, successful adults. So why do we choose to keep our children enslaved? Is it to feed our egos that our little darling is "prestigious"? Is it really worth it? And if that's the case, then the taxpayer should not foot the bill, you should. Because ALL schools should offer at the very least, a high standard of education. Trinidad and Tobago has been the wealthiest country in the Caribbean for most of the 50 years we have been independent. So why is it so hard for us to accept that at least our children are truly deserving of better? Is it that we need our own version of Katniss Everdeen, a rebellion fueled by children?
Meanwhile, in deference to all my friends who are parents with SEA aged children, and to the rest of the nations hope, Good luck to you all. May the odds be ever in your favour.