Too many bright Indian children: a problem for the Ministry of Education
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 later, 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. After the past two weeks when scandal in the 2020 SEA medalists made national headlines, change may become a reality, but in all likelihood, the news story would fade.
Two years after students sat SEA in 2020, and were designated to secondary schools, they were yet to attend due to ongoing pandemic, the Ministry of Education (MOE) blundered in deciding gold to the top students, their gaffe of the year. They awarded gold to the wrong student. 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.
Based on preliminary results in Creative Writing, Maths and English, a girl from the San Fernando Trinidad Muslim League primary school was informed by the MOE that she had placed first in October 2020. In March 2022, updated MOE correspondence indicated she would be awarded silver. In shock, the 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”. Imagine, the irreparable harm and unsubstantiated disappointment after a child had publicly been declared victorious only for MoE to inexplicably revoke the decision.
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.
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