Overcoming Education Inequality

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 22, 2020

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeLast Sunday 19 distinguished citizens (call them endorsees) recommended that the SEA be replaced since it no longer serves the interest of the students it is supposed to serve (“Replacing the SEA.” They claim that our school system has not extricated itself from its “colonial inheritances in education.” The SEA examination through which we place our students into secondary schools is outmoded. It originated in the UK in 1904, the year Joseph de Suze finished writing Little Folks Trinidad, a pioneering educational work.

The endorsees argue that there should be a smooth transition from primary to secondary school. They write: “In the elementary school, children should be tested at every grade level to see if they meet quality standards, especially in reading and mathematics. Science [teaching] should be a fixture in the curriculum.” It should extend to all secondary schools and be accessible to children in both islands.

The thrust of their arguments was not sufficiently persuasive to Kevin Baldeosingh who argued: “While the core argument—abolishing the SEA—can be empirically supported, the ancillary policy suggestions,…if implemented, are likely to worsen children’s education outcomes” (Express, December 14). He quibbled as to when these children should begin to learn to read (should it be five or seven), arguing that “too much focus on academics in pre-school leads to negative outcomes later.”

He says the most uninformed recommendation is “when a child in this country completes elementary school, he/she should go on to a good, high-quality secondary school.” He contends that “most parents will want their children to go to the prestige schools.” It did not occur to him that we should create more high-quality secondary schools.

Baldeosingh argues further that there is “no correlation between the school a child attends and academic performance. Instead, correlation runs the other way—it is when the students comprise a higher socioeconomic status (SES), higher-IQ cohort, that the school does well. This is clearly the case in Trinidad, where just 20 percent of pupils in the prestige schools are from a lower-SES background, and even those students are mostly high-IQ.”

If Baldeosingh agrees the SEA should be abolished, then he should have offered recommendations to assist these “accomplished Afro-Trinbagonians” to strengthen their statement. I presume that Baldeosingh agrees that the “outcomes” of this system is detrimental to approximately 80 percent of our students, especially those from “a lower-SES background.”

Baldeosingh is also aware that IQ tests embed culturally specific references that measure the expected interpretations of a student to his/her particular socio-economic environment, suggesting that the high IQ scores of the students to whom he refers reflect primarily what they may have learned in their particular social and cultural settings. An IQ test also includes linguistic and mathematical references which are not necessarily covered in all family experiences and classroom settings. Students of a lower socio-economic background who are tested on their knowledge of their social environment are likely to demonstrate as high an IQ as those in higher economic settings.

The endorsees proposed a solution to correct an anachronism in which 80 percent of our students are discarded at the age of twelve. They contend that there is an important correlation between the education a student receives and the productivity of a country’s “human capital.” In other words, if 80 percent of the population is not trained in modern/contemporary skills, then the society can never realize its full intellectual/economic potential. The entire society loses out economically, socially and culturally.

Baldeosingh argues that “fairness and pragmatism dictate that it is opportunities that must be equal, not outcomes.” This is neither true nor possible for a child who attends St. Andrews in Maraval and another who attends Excel Primary in Beetham. The latter does not possess similar and equal opportunities at the beginning of her educational journey. The attending circumstances are different, beginning with nutrition, finance, exposure to cultural events, a comfortable place to study, exposure to additional work, behavioral expectations and what model students are expected to achieve. Necessarily, the opportunities of these two children, related directly to their socio-economic circumstances, are unequal.

Two reports from the World Bank this month found that “coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic-related school closures risk pushing an additional 72 million primary school aged children, including those in the Caribbean, into ‘learning poverty,’ meaning that they are unable to read and understand a simple text by age ten” (Express, December 15). The report also affirmed that “the huge digital divides—from connectivity to digital skills—and inequalities in the quality of parental support and home learning environments are amplifying learning inequality” (Express, December 15). Sixty-nine thousand children in T&T do not possess electronic devices to access online education (Express, December 17).

The endorsees do not need to outline every obstacle that may arise in the implementation of their proposal. This is why we have education specialists and policy makers. However, we are certain of one thing: in each age, educational systems evolve to respond to the demands of its students—that is, from the first slave school that was established in 1832 to our secondary schools today. This age calls for another approach to attack education inequality.

In “Realizing the Future of Learning” the World Bank noted: “For societies to be inclusive and fair, they need to prepare all their children to succeed as citizens and give them the tools to participate in their countries’ development.”

The endorsees are saying that our school system needs to deliver a high-quality education for all its students and that we should “fully embrace equity as an overall guiding goal and principle of our education policy” (“Realizing the Future of Learning”). We should compliment them for their boldness of thought and acuity of insight.

8 thoughts on “Overcoming Education Inequality”

  1. Under hypnosis I will say like those scholars abolish the SEA. But for different reasons. (1) it makes black children feel inferior due to the low pass rate in some of these schools. (2) it doesn’t matter your education, if you have a party card you will get a manager job. Even if all you managed to do is eat a lot. (3) the last SEA exams was a disaster that ruin the lives of many children. (4). So called prestige schools are a relic of the past, the SEA fosters the idea that some schools are better than others. (5) SEA forces children to study and that is really bad at their age when they prefer to play Nintendo. (6) All children should be afforded an education, whether academic or trade. SEA emphasis is only on academics. (7) Poor families feel more inferior when their children have to go to a low grade school. (8) Today I was talking to one of my friend, her son is a dougla. She told me he could cook anything, he particularly like the spicy Indian food from India. She asked him how does he do it, his simple response was I google it. With Google who needs that terrible SEA exams.

    Outside of hypnosis. (1) SEA is a rite of passage exam it helps children prepared for university and the years of studying ahead.
    (2) Children get the opportunity to win scholarships, from Kamla 400 to Rowley 100 and 300 through “means test”..(. to help the losers) (3) My cousin children won scholarships and 3 are training as medical doctors one as a computer engineer. Another one on my uncle side is abroad studying, he is another scholarship winner. Smart children.
    (4) The exam gives the educators the opportunity to pick the “cream of the crop”. You don’t want a “C” student as a medical doctor or civil engineer or worst a politician (I digress here). (5) SEA is recognized educational standard across the Caribbean. (6) If there is the normalized system as many are suggesting, who will recognize the grade. If it is a Caribbean grading system it carries “more weight” as opposed to just a Trinidad grading system. (7) SEA came as a replacement to O and A level exams. All this talk about it coming from colonialism is misdirected and uneducated “fuh fah Ra”. It is a Caribbean standard exam.

    What can be done to SEA is a to remodel the system. To throw the baby out with the bath water because of perceived difficulties is narrow minded and short sighted. SEA worked for my cousin children all with high level in academia. Of course some of my cousin children did not make the high grades. But who is going to pick up the garbage (highly undervalued profession), work as a carpenter, mason etc. All our fingers are not equal, we need the rich as well as the poor. The educated as well as the faith filled uneducated. It should not be a “for or against” scenario. Keep the SEA and stop stressing over it. My perception is the PNM will get rid of it because “Great is the PNM”.

    1. Overcoming education inequality. Interesting topic with worldwide relevance. Coming from a family where both my parents were illiterate, and a graduate of one the cow pen schools in South Trinidad I feel I have sufficient experience to shed some light on this subject. In any education system at every level there are four main players- the child, the parent(s), the teachers, and the Government.

      The earliest education starts in the home, learning colours, tying shoelaces, the alphabet, counting to ten, playing games etc. Parents who devote time to teach their children these rudimentary skills will have children who are more successful when they enter primary school and these children will enjoy learning and fit in better with their peers.

      At this stage the role of the teachers and the Government start becoming more important. The government needs to ensure that all primary schools and the teachers in these schools meet certain minimum standards. The same goes for secondary schooling. If there are no minimum standards then inequality sets. At these two levels, parental involvement in their child’s education is crucial, since there are many distractions which we are all familiar with.

      At the secondary level having adequate resources is essential. At this level every student needs a computer. If the parents cannot provide one then then the school needs to supply one. This is where the govt comes in again to provide the funding to ensure that all secondary schools are adequately resourced with computers, labs, music programs, sporting equipment etc. If not more inequality.

      More to the point. In order to minimize education inequality, everyone involved needs to take their responsibilities seriously and pull their weight. The parents, the students, the teachers and the Government.

  2. “Primary education in the 50s and 60s, I think provided more because children stayed longer in the primary school system – they were there until they were 16 or 17. Nowadays we rush children through the primary school system to get to secondary school, many of them unready, and the full benefit of a sound primary school education is not had by many.”

    This is probably the most stupid statement of 2020.
    Who made this statement?
    Would you believe the Prime Minister of Trinidad &Tobago in his Xmas interview, 2020.

  3. Mamoo’s Skin is AS BLACK AS TAR, and yet he’s OBSESSED with exclusively referring to africans as “Black”…Why? In his real religion (Brahman-ism), not his pseudo-christian front, “Black” is the official designated colour of his forefathers (UNTOUCHABLES), and in this religious connotation, “Black” is inherently an insulting, degrading status and racial category.

    We The Racists? India’s Obsession, Skin-Deep Prejudice
    https://www.ndtv.com/video/news/we-the-people/we-the-racists-india-s-unfair-obsession-skin-deep-prejudice-454098

    1. You still my bro there Inconvenient. Hope you had some pastel and ginger beer and sorrel. Inconvenient I had black cake, cassava pone, sorrel, ginger beer from my black brethren. As I said before I will not exchange any of them for an Indian.
      Anyways Merry Christmas hope you understand without Jesus you nuttin!

    1. Inconvenient the topic was “inequality in education”. Kindly note the topic and try to engage the mind in a mental and psychological discourse as to the subliminal messaging of the author. What is he trying to say? And is it relevant to your putrid world view. Next understand where the psychosis starts and ends in his world view…..that way this blog will be better served,

  4. The education proposals endorsed by a group of professionals and published in the Trinidad Newsday are commendable. The recommendations provide an excellent roadmap for the management of school transition of students in TT. The article references Canada but overlooks the relevant facts about the Canadian educational system.

    Students and parents in the Canadian system do not compete for placement in schools because all schools are quality schools. Even those in low socio-economic areas must meet certain quality standards in terms of instruction, curriculum, working conditions, learning conditions. The physical plant must also meet quality standards.

    Before any consideration of the removal of the SEA, all schools in TT should undergo school improvement plans. Standards must be put in place for teacher qualifications, instruction, curriculum, student achievement, discipline and physical plant. In short, an aggressive, expensive school improvement plan should be undertaken before any removal of the SEA is even considered – if the goal is to make neighborhood schools more attractive.

    Hastily removing the SEA and leaving schools in their present condition or existence would not eliminate the negative factors mentioned in the article. It presents proposals for school improvement without considering that school improvement plans are long-term goals.

    Assuming these improvements could be completed to facilitate the removal of the SEA by 2021 is unrealistic. Total school improvement plans are four to five-year projects in most Canadian jurisdictions and these plans start from a much higher base than schools in TT.

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