Girl Places In First 29% But Sent To Junior Sec
Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2004
by George Alleyne, www.newsday.co.tt
There is nothing more wretched, more cruel than that of being poor, particularly in a society in which people continue to be judged by where they live, by their jobs and what have you and their seeming inability to escape from grinding poverty. Let me tell you the story of Jaresha Antonio. Jaresha Antonio is 12, lives in the Nelson Street Plannings and is determined to better herself, help motivate a younger sibling and to make her grandmother, Eleatha de Bourge, with whom she lives, proud of her. And at 12, Jaresha has had more than her share of trauma. Her mother was killed. In turn, it may be some time yet before she will be able to interact with her father on a day to day basis. As a result her grandmother, who is in her 80s and a pensioner, acts out the roles of both mother and father.
Jaresha has grown up in an environment - East Port-of-Spain - in which all too many of the children, because they have been demotivated and distracted from studying, have been sent, on the basis of their SEA marks, to three-year Junior Secondary Schools. Many have joined the ranks of school dropouts, only to be branded as failures by an insensitive society. The more committed of the nation's schoolchildren have aspired to become students at five and seven-year schools, at which they have a better chance at becoming achievers. There are those at the Ministry of Education who are prepared to rattle off what they cite as examples of products of Junior Secondary Schools who have been achievers. But these so called examples are at best aberrations.
In addition, a child assigned to a JSS, who stays the course, is at the end of his/her three-year course reassigned to a five-year school. Jaresha, as the majority of other primary schoolchildren, worked toward earning the level of marks which would qualify her for either a five-year or seven-year secondary school. And while most children, scarred by less trauma than that with which has been her lot, may have given up, Jaresha Antonio, a former student of the St Rose's RC School, worked hard at her studies and set herself the goal of achieving a needed percentage level, which would qualify her for admission to one of the leading seven-year schools or if not then a five-year school.
And if by chance she fell short of both which, incidentally, she was determined not to, she had made allowances in her sixth choice. When the results came in they showed that Jaresha got 83 per cent in Creative Writing, 75 percent in Language Arts and 70 percent in Mathematics had placed among the first 29 percent of the children who sat this year's SEA. In choices one to four (candidates have six choices) she had put down Bishop Anstey High School, St Joseph's Convent (Port-of-Spain), St Francois Girls' College and Providence Girls' Catholic School, but not necessarily in that order.
Admittedly, her percentage had not qualified her for any of the above schools. Nonetheless, her marks had qualified her if not for another seven-year school, then at least a five-year secondary school. Instead, Jaresha, who as I pointed out earlier lives at the Nelson Street Plannings (in Port- of-Spain), was placed in the Barataria Junior Secondary School. And while it clearly had been an error of judgment to have placed her in a school whose normal entrance requirements were considerable below the marks she had achieved, to have assigned her to a secondary school several miles from where she lived placed a hardship both on her and the financial resources of her aged grandmother. What is crucial is that the system stands the chance of frustrating a child who desperately wants to do well, and for her efforts at long hard hours of work which had placed her among the first 29 percent in the SEA to be recognised.
Here is a young girl of humble circumstance, who refused to give up hope in the face of the unbelievable poverty and in all too many cases the feeling of hopelessness pervading the Nelson Street Plannings. Here is a child, a pre-teen, who refused to give up when her mother was killed, and studied hard when other children her age could not be bothered with poring over text books, knowing that they would be assigned to a secondary school or whatever, whether they studied or not. Only for her efforts to be tacitly dismissed by the system. Any one of my readers who has even a nodding acquaintance with the Nelson Street Plannings or has followed the news closely will appreciate the meaning and quality of Jaresha's struggle.
Is the system so insensitive as to deny a clearly focused, ambitious and committed Jaresha Antonio and the other Jaresha Antonios in Trinidad and Tobago the right to be achievers? Jaresha Antonio is not a mere statistic. She is a human being with hopes and dreams, who if given the opportunity and encouragement can make a contribution to the social and economic growth of this country and in whatever small way help nudge it on the road to its 2020 vision. Her aim is to reach the mountaintop. And as long as she remains focused she should not be denied the right to view the promised land.
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