Dr Varma Deyalsingh---use

‘GENDER PARADOX’: Dr Varma Deyalsingh

The announcement of the appointment of a committee to review the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination and Concordat has met with support from parents and psychologist Dr Varma Deyalsingh.

The Ministry of Education announced yesterday that Cabi­net has given approval for the establishment of a committee to “further review and recommend changes to the conduct of SEA and transition to secondary school and the Concordat”.

The ministry said the establishment of the committee was initiated following a series of consultations last year.

“The establishment of this committee is but one of the steps toward making meaningful change based on the suggestions, recommendations and findings from the stakeholder engagement exercise in November to December of 2020,” the ministry noted.

Several parents told the Express yesterday they felt optimistic this signals the beginning of the end for the SEA.

Rachiel Ramsamooj, administrator of an SEA parent support group, said she was happy a ­review is being undertaken.

“We are heartened and pleased to learn of the ministry’s decision as this is an important development in seeking to resolve a long-standing issue that requires timely resolution.

“The matter of having a holistic and continuous assessment of our children at primary school rather than a one-off exam which has been very stressful for parents, teachers and students alike, is a critical prerequisite for successful learning,” Ramsamooj stated.

“We are optimistic that this initiative by the ministry is a step in the right direction and are hopeful that they will engage with all stakeholders to arrive at a successful resolution in our children’s interest,” she said.

Hoping for changes

Another parent said while all her children had already done the exam, she was also in support of a review and hoped it led to change.

“I have three children and I know how stressful the exam was for them, so hopefully in the future they change the system so other children will not have to go through that,” she said.

The ministry said yesterday the committee will have nine months to deliberate, following which it will submit a report making speci­fic recommendations to Cabinet.

Long overdue

Deyalsingh, who has in the past advocated for an alternative method of placing children into secondary schools, said yesterday the appointment of the committee is long overdue, and he is hoping it will bring about meaningful change.

He noted the SEA exam has long been criticised for causing stress, depression and other problems for children.

“So, any sort of review that can help alleviate this stress is certainly welcome,” he said.

“I am hoping the ministry also looks at doing some sort of ­depression testing.”

Deyalsingh said he believed there would be change under the leadership of Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, despite her predecessor, Anthony Garcia, having expressed views in the past in support of keeping the SEA exam.

In January 2020, Garcia was asked about the future of the exam following the Barbados government’s decision to axe that country’s Common Entrance exam.

He said then the ministry had been looking at the issue for some time and had not been able to come up with an appropriate alternative method for primary school pupils to transition into secondary schools.

He said there were also legal implications as the Concordat allows for denominational schools to select 20 per cent of their pupils in addition to the rights of parents to choose a school for their children.

Deyalsingh said Gadsby-Dolly may have a fresh, new perspective.

“We have a new minister and she is also a mother and she knows the stresses that can occur. So hopefully having a new driver in the seat, we may be able to get changes if she has that desire and if the (stakeholders) come on board to support any sort of measure that could alleviate the stress in our children.

“Because this is something we can change. This is something that is within our power as parents, caregivers and as a mature society to say this is not fair for our children to be undergoing such stress and such trauma year in, year out. It is our duty to do this.

“Children need to enjoy their childhood and I think we have stolen that childhood from our children with this level of exam stress we put on them,” he said.