Letter to Minister of Education on SEA Results

July 14, 2011

Dr. Tim Gopesingh, Minister
Ministry of Education,
Port of Spain
Trinidad

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeDear Dr. Gopeesingh:

I am sure that you were pleased as I was to learn that 14 students from one class in the Chaguanas Government School placed among the top one hundred students in the recent SEA Examination. Initially, my instinct was to accept the result and to applaud the exemplary teaching that takes place in that school; that is, until allegations of cheating were brought to my attention. Although I wanted to disregard this unfortunate conclusion, my desire for fairness led me to contact a statistician from William Patterson University in New Jersey, USA, and a mathematician from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to determine the statistical possibility of such a result occurring.

I posed the following question to each professor:

“17,327 students from 541 schools take an exam. One school has five standard five classes of approximately 25 students each. Some schools have several standard five classes that take the exam. Each class consists of approximately 25 students. Statistically, what are the chances of fourteen students from one of those classes being placed in the first 100 places in that exam?”

The statistician answered as follows:

“Bottom line I think it is safe to say that something untoward happened. a) unless this teacher is the most brilliant in the world; b) unless these 14 students are the most brilliant in the world; the chances are one trillion to one that some form of ‘cheating’ went on.”

Necessarily, he felt more question needed to be answered (such as, “If this teacher taught last year, what was her/his class results?” “Is this a prestige school; is this an honor’s class and so on?”) before he could arrive at a more definite answer. Although I could not answer all of these questions, he remains convinced that the chances are one trillion to one that such a result is possible.

My colleague to whom I posed the question above is a mathematician. He received his doctorate from University of Chicago and has a master’s degree from Cambridge University, England. He responded as follows:

“The probability is so incredibly small that it is almost zero. In fact, the probability that such a thing happens is about .00000000000000000258086%. This computes the probability that some class of 25 has 14 students in the top 100.

“I think that it is fairly certain that either cheating was involved, or you have an exceptionally bright number of students in this particular class.”

In other words, the statistical probability of this class achieving this educational result is almost impossible.

It is important to note that neither of these scholars knows the racial composition of these classes or has any interest in the results one way or another. They were simply responding to a question that I posed. In other words, they cannot be accused of being biased.

In light of these findings, I was wondering if the Ministry of Education, in the quest for fairness, would be willing to examine this situation to find out whether anything untoward happened in this class among the students or the teacher and report the Ministry’s finding to the nation. Given the importance of this examination to the educational system of Trinidad and Tobago I do not believe that such charges should be dismissed lightly. I know that you, too, would want to be sure that the integrity of this examination is not impinged.

I hope you will forgive me if I share this letter with the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association and the Nation Parent Teachers’ Association.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience..

Please allow me to remain,

Sincerely,

Selwyn R. Cudjoe, President

National Association for the Empowerment of African People

12 Responses to “Letter to Minister of Education on SEA Results”


  • The lines, “I hope you will forgive me … (and) Please allow me to remain …” are unbecoming and self-demeaning for anyone, and even more for someone of your stature.

    Whether or not you intended to be falsely modest, or carry a sense of ‘abject regard’ the results are not honourable, and thereby not acceptable.

    In so doing you unintentionally undermine the unequivocal legitimacy of your letter of notice, not an appeal to a superior for action by the minister if he deigns to consider any action.

    As Black people, we must always cover the ground on which we stand.

    • I have lived in Denmark now more than fifty years (50) with my Danish husband and my kida and grand children etc. What is “black”? I was (Danish thinking after all these years) under the assumptionj that anything NOT WHITE was BLACK. It is so in Denmark. Whether it be a variation of brown or brown black. I also thought that being born in T&T one was a “Trinidadian” and not an AFRICAN or an INDIAN or whatever. Have I made a mistake? Can a snmall country like T&T thrive fairly, if one practises a “colour scheme”?

      Best regards

      Farida Dahl (née Ali)

  • DO you think the sort of dedication described by DEOSARAN in the article reproduced below could possibly defy the scientific statistical evidence provided by Cudjoe’s colleagues?

    Dedicated teachers
    PROFESSOR RAMESH DEOSARAN Sunday, July 17 2011

    Dedication. This means devotion with single-minded loyalty to a special purpose, a quality which gives teaching life and meaning. Good teaching is really based on dedication — a caring attitude towards students. Now before the arguments start let me quickly say that in today’s world, these psychological attributes depend on a number of other things, among them, some teacher comfort and parental interest. It also depends on who is being taught. Further, today there is the need for specialisation, certification, and an abundance of regulations and bureaucracy. Quite a far, far cry from the days of the Hindu guru, Socrates, Aristotle or Plato. Still, today, like a whisper, now and again, you hear a story of inspiration, of what dedication can still do for teaching.

    This is so when you hear Ms Neilla Kissoon talk about teaching and how three of her pupils at the Chaguanas Government Primary School came in the top three of the SEA examinations. Hear the single mother of two, “I have been teaching since the 80s and I just have a teacher’s diploma. I do not even have a degree.” It is in the spirit, not necessarily in academic qualifications, she dared to say.

    Embedded in the Satya Baba spiritual doctrines, as she said, Ms Kissoon then explained to the media how quite often she has turned a “backward” pupil into an achieving one, from the “D” stream to the “A” stream, she proudly acclaimed. She summarised her dedication this way, “You must be dedicated. I am a teacher who works beyond the call of duty. I am here early in the morning and sometimes the last to leave.” Of course, her dedication is linked to the competitive SEA examination, a lightening rod for annual controversy.

    • Is Ramesh Deosaran implying that teachers of another race, in this instance Black teachers, and single mothers at that, unless they are Indian do not have the same passion and skills for teaching? And would therefore not achieve the results Ms. Kisson ostensibly has?

      Has he forgotten or does not know that the first teachers of Indentured Indians in T&T, when British Imperialism and rampant, unapologetic white supremacist culture considered them cool*es and Black people nig*ers, were Black teachers like Mr. Murray of Osmond High School?

      What should be startling is his presumption, implicit and explicit that somehow, these results are not only acceptable but also reasonably defensible—much like the rabid anti-Black propaganda that Black people have kept down Indians.

      In addition, he uses religion, in too many instances the ubiquitous tool of the ignorant powerful and the dishonourable accredited, in this instance, the Satya Baba doctrines in which Ms. Kisson is “embedded” to buttress what is without merit. To defend the indefensible.

      The fact that he is forced to resort to cloaking his defence of this anomaly using imbecile supporting arguments of unusual personal dedication being linked to this, or any other particular doctrine clearly indicates that Deosaran seeks, not clarification nor spirited debate, objective and unassailable, but meek submission by those who would dare to question what he infers is the way the world turns. Or should, regardless.

      Unfortunately, what is troubling is not so much his argumentation, trite and without the need to employ guile, but also the fact that Black people, already so beaten down by racism and internalized low expectations, while knowing this man’s position to be base and baseless, would consider it unimportant in the light of high levels of unemployment and of a virulent anti-black racism that now assumes the normality of the abnormal, for example, of the sun rising, not in the east, but in the west.

  • neverdirty wrote:
    The lines, “I hope you will forgive me … (and) Please allow me to remain …” are unbecoming and self-demeaning for anyone, and even more for someone of your stature.

    Whether or not you intended to be falsely modest, or carry a sense of ‘abject regard’ the results are not honourable, and thereby not acceptable.

    In so doing you unintentionally undermine the unequivocal legitimacy of your letter of notice, not an appeal to a superior for action by the minister if he deigns to consider any action.

    As Black people, we must always cover the ground on which we stand.

    Totally agree with your sentiments. Fact is, we passed the threshold where it is productive for us to throw pearls before swine, in a manner of speaking. The result of doing so as history repeatedly informs us, is our courteous addresses being perceived as acceptance of the peverse belief systems that inhabit the mindset of the addressees.

    We have to adopt the pattern of making it plain, and don’t give a hoot who is offended when laying down the truth. In a nation where ethnic ego mastubatory postulations have become more and more entrenched in the expressed thoughts of sycophants and pundits of the PP, we need to release the valve and let it all hang out.

  • Dr. Cudjoe’s letter makes me question, yet again, the utility of the SEA. In all the hoopla about those who came top, there was very little discussion about the distribution of the results. What I very much hoped to see were figures showing what kind of results each school had. To me, what is important is not how many students in a school came in the top 100. What is really important is how many of the SEA class got their first and second choices. And if the answer is not 100%, then as far as I am concerned, the examination itself is a cheat.

  • Let me make it plain. The teacher had the answers in advance and she fed them to her students during the exam. Is that plain enough it, happens all the time in the good old U.S.A.

    Its either that or the SEA isn’t worth its salt or the paper its written on.

    Maybe as a nation we need to go back to our Colonial Masters invigilating our students academic performances because I don’t see how we can move forward form this.

    • My sister attended that school a while ago. She was one of the better students in the class and “passed” for Bishops, port of spain. She was told to allow students sitting next to her to access her exam paper. She was instructed that she should not hunch over her paper.

  • “What is really important is how many of the SEA class got their first and second choices. And if the answer is not 100%, then as far as I am concerned, the examination itself is a cheat.”
    That says it all. The SEA is an unnecessary inconvenience; a high stakes examination that is used to prop up an elitist system that pretends to be democratic. With universal secondary education there is absolutely no reason why we must continue to subject our children to this farce. And now there is talk of changing to the proposed CXC Caribbean Primary Exit Examination, which will incorporate a school-based continuous assessment component. More room for statistical wizardry. While this may be necessary to facilitate the free movement of persons under the CSME, unless there are measures built into the administration of the examination at all levels, the spectre of questionable teacher integrity will persist and invalidate the process.

  • “the spectre of questionable teacher integrity will persist and invalidate the process.” Quite. From early on it was obvious that the examination only perpetuated the mistake of the old Exhibition. We were promised adequate school places so that the Common Entrance could be phased out. Instead we have the SEA. Now we want to have a new test, the CXC Caribbean Primary Exit Examination. Was it Einstein that made that remark that it is insane to repeat the same mistake over and over and expect different results? We cannot trust the system and consequently mistrust the people who administer it and make their living by it.

  • oh… and if you want to find out bout the teacher… or the students…. or the teacher/teaching methodologies… come to the school and speak to them…

  • If they have cheated they cheated. It has been happening all over in the so called “Prestige schools” where they have expert cheaters. It’s not surprising that it’s happening is central or anywhere else for that matter. Race is not a factor where it is happening. But is seems that if every other race except negro does it it’s easier to doubt that it happened. Most don’t expect excellence from negro people so when we perform commendably it’s easier to doubt. That’s sad though. If Indians in this country makes the same erroneous assumptions that whites made then they would be fools too.

    If its one thing that i feel most honourably is that negro people, even if down, will keep rising to every challenge, climb every height, surmount every negative expectations thrown at us.

    When black achievers got island scholarships or prevailed in exams where we were up against every possible obstacle in our way where was everyone else. What was there performance rating. We had to out-white the whites at their own games to excell. No culture or tradition or language or family life to keep us intact. And yet haphazardly we did. And we took control of our country so that all others could share it. Right now you should have expected some form of respect and appreciation or a little understanding from the other races for efforts even if now our educational efforts have not ended as it was intended.

    But I understand to them slavery never happened or colonism never kepted us back. Sociology and psychology are not subjects. No way we were just having a blast several hundred years while they working. While they were studying we were playing golf and drinking and eating cake.

Comments are currently closed.