• 24 Jun, 2024

Too many bright Indian children: a problem for the Ministry of Education

Too many bright Indian children: a problem for the Ministry of Education

Too many bright Indian children: a problem for the Ministry of Education

Photo credits : Trinidad and Tobago Guardian

One of the many anti-Indian calypsonians in Trinidad and Tobago named “Cro Cro” lambasted the process of placement in the Secondary School Common Entrance exam in his first Calypso Monarch victory in 1988. He charged that the process was rife with corruption because too many children were excelling in the exams … too many Chinese, half-whites and Indian children with surnames such as Laldeo, Boodoo, Krishna, Maharaj, Arjoon, Narwani and Ramoutarsingh. Thirty-four years after Cro-Cro’s song, the results have not changed. The surnames of students in Trinidad ’s Hindu, Muslim and Presbyterian primary schools have been typecast. Now, there are calls by non-Indians for the abolition of the exam altogether.

The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination is a critical exam taken by primary school students in Trinidad and Tobago, determining their entry into secondary schools. Typically, the top-performing students' names are published by the government, but after controversy in the 2020 award, government decided to withhold the publication. Last year, two years after students sat SEA in 2020, the Ministry of Education (MOE) blundered in deciding gold to the top student. By convention, the prize, is awarded based on preliminary results in Creative Writing, Maths and English. Instead of quietly awarding gold to the top two, the MOE allowed the debate to seep into the public domain before ultimately awarding both, and blaming a bureaucrat for the discrepancy.

A girl, of East Indian descent, from the San Fernando Trinidad Muslim League primary school was told by the MOE she had placed first, since October 2020. But in March 2022, updated MOE correspondence said she would be awarded silver, and an Afro-Trinidadian male would be placed first. Her parents sought legal advice from former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and his legal team. They argued that the decision to award their client silver “violated her legitimate expectation and is patently unfair.”


Why hide the name of SEA winners?


With official public placements now hidden, schools and parents have applied, with success, under the Freedom of Information Act, to know their children’s placement. TT Express reported, “The Dayanand Memorial Vedic School in Penal has cemented itself as a top performing primary school, with six pupils having scored in the top 200 at the SEA in 2022. An FOIA request submitted by parents in the last few months revealed that former pupils Aditi Beekham, Samara Chulan and Meera Rampersad each placed in the top 100… The school's 2022 SEA class comprised only 50 pupils.” Many believe the government's decision was based on ethnic bias and discrimination, as the majority of the top-performing students are of Indian descent.

Year after year, the top performers in SEA exam become rather predictable. Gold is usually awarded to a female of Indian descent from South Trinidad. Look at the past ten years: In 2012 - Rebecca Jattan; 2013 - Sandhya Sookhoo; 2014 - Shivanna Chattoor; 2015 - Anusha Saha; 2016 - Caitlin Brooker ; 2017- Lexi Balchan; 2018 - Saiesh Rampersad; 2019 - Siri Vadlamudi; 2020 – disputed, and  2021- Kirsten Ramsaran of Rousillac Presbterian School. In the past ten years, all first place awardees were of Indian descent; only one boy placed first in 2018, and Grant Memorial Presbyterian had three first-place winners. Statistically, it is an anomaly when someone other than an Indian girl child places first, and an anomaly was what the MOE tried to create in 2020. In 2022, an FOIA also continued the trend. TT Newsday reported, “Anushka Singh had topped the SEA in 2022. And although her placement was not announced with the usual fanfare, the former student at Gandhi Vedic Memorial in Aranguez still beams with pride.”

Trinidad has a diverse population, with Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians being the two largest ethnic groups. Complaints of systemic ethnic bias favouring Afro-Trinidadians over Indo-Trinidadians have existed since before independence in 1962. The decision not to publish the top-performing students' names has only exacerbated suspicion of ethnic bias. The controversy has also highlighted the need for transparency and accountability in the local education system. Many believe that the government's decision not to publish the results was an attempt to cover up any evidence of ethnic-overachievement in the exam. There have been calls for an independent investigation into the SEA results, with some demanding that the government resume the annual release of the names of the top-performing students.