Two students share President’s gold medal as Education Ministry settles 2020 SEA dispute

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Aaron Subero has been ranked as one of the top two 2020 SEA students with Ameerah Beekhoo. –

After threats of legal action, Ameerah Beekhoo and Aaron Subero will be jointly recognised as the top SEA students for 2020 and receive the President’s gold medal for their achievement.

The Ministry of Education announced its decision to recognise Beekhoo and Subero as the top scorers in the 2020 exam in a release on Saturday and said both students will receive the President’s Medal (gold) during a ceremony on Monday.

The release also announced St Gabriel’s Girls RC student Mercedes David and Trinidad Renaissance School student Anjanaa Dan Trinidad Renaissance School will each receive the President’s Medal (silver). David is also a new honouree, as Dan was originally the only student who placed second in 2020.

On Saturday, Subero’s mother Natasha De Coteau-Subero told Sunday Newsday, “I am pleased that he is at least going to get the recognition for his hard work and I am happy were able to find a solution.”

De Coteau-Subero said the family will no longer pursue legal action against the ministry and said the outcome was the best for the both children.

When Sunday Newsday spoke to Subero on Saturday, he had just finished winning a junior tennis tournament.

He said, “I appreciate that we will both be recognised for our achievements and I’m happy that my hard work paid off. “

Subero, who attends Fatima College, won his opening two matches in the boys Under-14 singles category at the RBC Junior Tennis tournament at Trinidad Country Club in Maraval, on Saturday.

He won his first match 5-4, 4-2 and followed up with a 4-1, 4-2 victory. Subero will be aiming to win his category in the tournament which ends on Thursday.

Beekhoo’s father Dr Nickelson Beekhoo on Saturday said his family will also not move forward with any legal action as they were also pleased with the outcome.

He explained the family considered legal action not because of the award but to expresss their displeasure with the manner in which the mixup occurred.

He said at no point was the family told his daughter’s placement was under review due to Subero’s results being queried.

In this file photo Ameerah Beekhoo, as a student of San Fernando TML School, celebrates her success the top performer in the 2020 SEA exam. –

Given both Beekhoo, who attends Naparima Girls’ High School, and Subero were part of the first group of SEA students to write the exam during the pandemic, and after months of virtual learning, he said the children already went through enough with the exam and the country should now focus on celebrating their achievement.

“We are happy that this has come to an amicable resolution. Aaron also performed well and I send congratulations to him and his family.

“Ameerah is quite fine and she is very relieved this has come to an end because she is not a child that likes publicity and her face has been all over the papers these past few days.”

Contention over which student should get the gold medal started when Beekhoo was sent an invite on March 31 to attend the award ceremony at President’s House for the silver medal which is given to the second place SEA student.

On the same day, Subero was invited to the ceremony for the gold medal which is given to the first place student.

The mix-up occurred after a ministry official “exceeded the authority of their remit”, according to Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, by varying the placement list without approval after Subero’s marks were upgraded following a review of his exam script.

But Beekhoo’s parents threatened legal action and questioned the grounds on which she was awarded the silver medal given she was recognised by the ministry as the top 2020 SEA student in a ceremony on October 8, 2020.

On April 7, the ministry rescinded both invites and said Beekhoo would be awarded the gold medal which led to Subero’s parents threatening legal action.

In this file photo, Aaron Subero competes during a tennis match at the Country Club, Maraval in 2020. –

On Thursday, the ministry maintained awards for the top SEA scorers in any given year are based on preliminary results.

On Friday, Gadsby-Dolly doubled down and said the ministry was sticking with its original position to award Beekhoo only as the top winner on the basis of the preliminary results even though attorneys representing both Beekhoo and Subero submitted proposals for them to jointly share the award. But in its release on Saturday, the ministry said it avoided defending the parents’ proposed legal actions as it would not have been in the best interest of the students involved.

The release said, “In a situation where two highly performing students have both excelled academically and have been both, through no fault of their own, been promised the highest accolade of the President’s Medal, and have both declared their willingness to share this accolade, as an exception to any earlier practice, this option has been agreed to, as it would conduce to the benefit of both students.”

The ministry again apologised for the controversy surrounding which student should get the medal and said it should not have occurred.

“Quite apart from the merits of any proposed legal challenge by any of these students, it is important to recognise that both children will have regrettably and unjustifiably suffered as a result of the conflicting messages they have received.”

The ministry said there will be a review of this process by which the medals are awarded.

While she acknowledged David’s silver medal, Catholic Education Board of Management CEO Sharon Mangroo said the “unfortunate situation” was a learning opportunity.

Mangroo said, “What this points to is the fact that we need to look at how we give awards to students and also take a deeper look at the philosophy behind what guides these awards.

“What is the philosophy and what does it say about us as a country?

“We are evolving and the country is growing. We need to look back at what we have been doing in the past, where our country is now and what we want to continue doing.”

The Office of the President on Saturday once again clarified its role in the President’s Medal ceremony. In a statement, it explained President Paula-Mae Weekes confers these awards but neither she nor the office determines who receives the awards.

“The Office of the President simply receives the names of the persons to be awarded from the relevant authority, issues invitations to a presentation ceremony hosted by the President at which she confers (presents the recipients with) the awards.

“The Office of the President has no knowledge of the persons who are selected unless and until we are provided with their names by the deliberating body.”

The statement said while these ceremonies are held annually, the President’s Office has not been able to do so in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

“Over the past two years the timing has not been regular and the Office of the President has kept in touch with the relevant authorities to ascertain when we would be supplied with the names of the recipients of the various awards so that we could schedule the presentation ceremonies.”

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