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SEA-Saw of Fate

YESTERDAY, 18,000-plus children of Trinidad & Tobago sat the biggest exam of their little lives, the Secondary Entrance Assessment, the new name for the old 11-Plus exam that itself had the same old effect as the “exhibition” exams of the 1950s: for the vast majority who will not enter a “prestige school” – which, in Trinidad, means one where the teachers turn up more often than not and students are only robbed at knifepoint near the weekend, when their classmates need money for clubbing – yesterday was the last chance they had of ever having a “life of the mind”; sad, as the Jackass-in-Chief might tweet.

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SEA of Woe

IN SYMPATHY with the 11-year-old children of Trinidad & Tobago who, two weeks ago, might have had the rest of their lives ruined – by the Secondary Entrance Assessment examination, not by having to marry a man old enough to be their grandfather – I attempted last year’s actual SEA maths paper two Fridays ago. This morning, I’ll do what was called “the English paper” when I sat the 11-Plus 47 years ago, but what the Ministry of Education now insists is better described as, “language arts”; let’s see if I have enough art at language to get me into a Trini “prestige” secondary school – i.e., one in which teachers actually turn up occasionally, if only to have their car washed by one of this year’s graduating class; I note, too, that “grammar” has itself now been downgraded to “grammar skills”, so you don’t have to know grammar, just show some skills relating to it.

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SEA My Troubles

IN THE LAST month, Trinidad divided itself into two camps, each clamouring for either of two gymnasts contesting one Olympics spot, each of whose careers might be devastated if the other went to Rio, and nobody could stop talking about it – but, every year, around this time, thousands of small children have their lives shattered in a single morning, that of the Secondary Assessment Exam – and no one says, “Boo!” Last Thursday, a few thousand kids won places at a “prestige” school and a chance of a real career, but everyone else got sent – or sentenced – to a five-year holding cell until they graduate to either McDonalds small fry guy or prison big bad John; for the bulk of our secondary schools, the uniform might as well be orange overalls.

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