Stakeholders welcome scrapping of SEA top performers list

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Pupils from St Agnes Primary School, from left, Malaysia Cameron, Kyla Long, Tahira Phillip, Stacian Wilson and Jayla Prentice, enjoyed each other’s company at MovieTowne, Port of Spain, on Friday after receiving their SEA results. – ROGER JACOB

STAKEHOLDERS basically welcomed the decisions by Education Minister Gadsby-Dolly to scrap the annual list of SEA top pupils and to order 9,000 low-scoring pupils to attend remedial classes in the vacation. However Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha head Vijay Maharaj reserved comment.

Catholic Education Board CEO Sharon Mangroo told Newsday “Both are very progressive steps. It’s time that we stop that listing of children. It’s an artificial thing, highlighting the children who scored the top marks.

“It doesn’t serve any real purpose. I think it was not going in the direction we wanted to go. It was making people competitive.

“What we are looking for is success for all of our students and not singling out one or two children. They may have worked hard, or they may have had better resources, better opportunities and I think we just need to be careful about what we celebrate.”

Mangroo welcomed the vacation remedial classes. “It is very forward-thinking. It is very necessary.” She said the schools selected had been those whose pupils did not get the best marks.

“It is giving them another opportunity, so that before school starts in September they have a chance to make up, even if only partially. But they will have a chance. Again, we are looking at equity and this is a a great step towards equity.”

Maharaj told Newsday he needed to examine Gadsby-Dolly’s remarks before he could comment, having been busy all day collating the results from Maha Sabha schools.

He said he was due to meet her on Tuesday at a meeting arranged from before the release of results.

Maharaj said, “I will say the Maha Sabha schools did better than last year. Our schools did very, very well this year.” He said in recent years his schools had made “a tremendous improvement.”

He expected the Association of Denominational Boards to offer some commentary, even as he wished to speak to his colleagues.

While not yet ready to comment, Maharaj questioningly revealed that a Maha Sabha pupil had scored 271 this year, ahead of last year’s first-place score of 260.

TTUTA president Antonia de Freitas welcomed the vacation lessons, saying, “The Ministry of Education and the division in Tobago have run programmes like that in the past.”

However, she urged more social intervention to support such students, so that in five years time they would not be still struggling.

De Freitas said TTUTA had been told by memo of the ministry’s two decisions earlier on Friday.

She said teacher engagement for vacation classes must be in line with a 1985 special tribunal judgement.

“Teachers must do it on their own volition.

“All we’d want to know is they are compensated for it, and have regular working hours and good conditions of work.”

She supported the initiative, but said the ministry should discuss logistics with TTUTA, such as pupil accommodation in schools if under repair.

Regarding the scrapping of the top pupils list, she said the release and publication of results had a high psychological impact as SEA was so high-stakes.

While congratulating top pupils and all pupils, she said, “But notwithstanding the salutations and congratulations, what about the students who didn’t make those high marks?”

She said society must determine whether publication did nor did not benefit pupils.

“That’s why the ministry launched an online portal, so parents and students could have the level of privacy they need and you deal with the thing as you see fit as a family.

“From the perspective of TTUTA, we’ve always recognised that the stress associated with the results and the assessment, that publication is something that we question.”

Newsday asked if parents, groups like TTUTA and the wider society have a right to know how various schools have fared.

De Freitas said that parents and groups can get a lot of information from the particular pupil’s school environment, which need not be published widely.

She said TTUTA believed every school has the capacity to be a high-performing school, although she lamented a lack of equity and a continuation of labelling of schools.

Tabaquite MP Anita Haynes said since 2020 she had warned that 47,000 school children had not logged on to virtual school lessons during the pandemic, with her concerns about connectivity and accessibility now shown in the SEA results.

“Generally the results bear out what I’ve been saying for the past two years. If there is no targeted intervention beforehand, you’ll see the results of your inaction.”

She was unimpressed with the scraping of the pupil list.

“While we rethink the system and how we measure excellence and achievement and I’m all open for that discussion, I don’t think that not publishing a list is the solution.”

She instead urged a discussion on how to get pupils to achieve academic excellence.

“The announcement of there being no list is really just a cover for them not getting it right the last time.

“Publishing or not publishing a list is really a pointless discussion.”

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