By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 20, 2011
Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, Minister of Education, is a gynecologist by training. He is not an educator. At the very least, his response to my inquiry proves his mis-understanding about how a Minister of Education functions. Anyone who has been following this controversy (See “Probe SEA Results” in the July 13 issue of and my subsequent letter to the Minister of Education, July 17 Trinidad Mirror) knows that I only sought to bring to the Minister’s attention the statistical improbability of 14 students from one class placing within the first one hundred students in the recent SEA examinations.
In my letter I asked in light of the findings of two distinguished scholars that the Minister “examine the situation to find out whether anything untoward had happened in this class among the students or the teacher and then report the Ministry’s finding to the nation.”
My request is keeping within the spirit of inquiry that is inherent in the fundamental theory and practice of education. I had hoped that the Minister would display his dialogical skills as an educator and leader of our educational system. I was sadly mistaken. Without even examining the substance of the problem posed, he offered the following response: “I will not engage in any such discussion, and it is not my intention to initiate any such probe.”
This is response of un-intelligent thug. Educators from Plato to Johann Pestalozzi (Swiss), John Dewey and Horace Mann Bonn (American), and Paulo Friere (Brazilian) have always seen education as a process of dialogue rather than monologue; the quest for humanistic understanding rather than engaging in authoritarian discourses in the manner of the slave and his master or the plantation owner and the indenture laborer.
When I asked the Minister to investigate this anomaly I did not ask for a personal favor. I thought I was inviting him into to engage in a dialogical process whereby we could arrive at the truth or falsity of a given condition. I was saying here is a process, undertaken on behalf of the nation, to determine how we place our students in various high schools through the use of a placement examination. The Minister’s primary function is to ensure that the process is fair and transparent.
Apart from refusing to question or the possibility of how such an improbable result could have been attained (the one in one trillion possibility as our statistician cited), Dr. Gopeesingh continued his tirade: “He dismissed Cudjoe’s claims as ‘absolute nonsense’ saying that the school did extremely well, along with some other Muslim Schools.”
I am sure that many schools, including Muslim schools, did well in the examination, but as the head of our educational system, Dr. Gopeesingh has an obligation to tell the public what aspect of my question is “absolute nonsense” and why it is so? After all, a truth does not become self-evident because a Minister of Mis-education so pronounces.
Dr. Goppesing also affirmed that “he was perfectly comfortable with the integrity of the system and that anyone who tried to bring it into disrepute was bent on mischief.”
This is a strange statement. Does it follow that because Dr. Gopeesingh is comfortable with the system that a citizen has no right to question the system? Or, is it that Dr. Gopeesingh possesses the ultimate truth and, like the Pope, is infallible in his judgment on educational matters. Does it mean that Dr. Gopeesingh’s judgment must never be challenged? Or, is this a new brand of Nazism that has invaded our system that says, “No one must question any aspect of the system because the Minister is satisfied with the integrity of the system?”
Many readers responded to my article. One reader asked: “How can 14 students from that school be in the top 100 performing students in the SEA and the school branded a top performing school when it is not categorized as excellent school according to the data from the National Test [2005-2009] Academic Performance Index [API] produced by DERE of MOE in March 2011 and several children from the same school have to resit the said SEA in 2012?”
Now this may be a silly question. It deserves an answer.
Other readers were concerned that the subjective weight of the Creative Writing component of the exam skewed the results. Creative Writing is scored out of 20. This mark contributes to 40 per cent of the Languauge Arts Component of SEA while English which is scored out of 100, contributes 60% of the Language Arts Component. It is in this subjective area that the marks could be skewed to favor one student at the expense of another.
One principal writes: “Several students who received top marks in Maths and English were given low marks in Creative Writing. The top student from a Barataria School had 99 in Maths; 95 in English and 16 in Creative Writing; a top student from Bishop Anstey Junior received 98 in Mahs; 95 in English; 16 in Creative Writing; another student, ‘the best writer in my class,’ received 91 in Maths; 89 in English and 10 in Creative Writing. Similar scores were recorded among the students in the East-West Corridor.”
On the other hand, 3 students from Ramai Trace Hindu School all received 20 in Creative Writing; in the 80s in English; and 98/99 in Maths. All of these students were recorded as Top Performing students; that is, having an average of 95 per cent in the SEA.
She notes: “If several students from the Corridor were given Creative Writing marks that really reflected their true potential, more of these students would have been among the Top Performers.”
She concludes: “I can tell you that it’s a long time now that allegations have been made about certain schools and certain fellow educators with respect to SEA papers and the unfair/dishonest advantages it gives their students.”
The coming of the PP does did not give Dr. Gopeesing the right to introduce an authoritarian and dictatorial style into the education process. His statements may sound firm and unequivocal but they speak to all of the ills of the country: the inability to respect the views of others and to understand that he is not a boss on a plantation nor a resurrected slave driver but the head of a system that should allow citizens to think through ideas and to try to arrive at just conclusions in a democratic manner. The Ministry of Education is only a conduit to arrive at that desired outcome.
Dr. Gopeesingh has a public obligation to reexamine the results that the Chaguanas Government Primary School obtained and to report his findings to the nation.