IN his two-part expose published in the Express of June 30 and July 1, statistician Nigel Henry has presented a view of the murky world of SEA student placement that ordinarily is hidden from public view and understanding, and known only to those insiders who have been responsible for its conduct over the years. Henry comes forward here as a citizen with a sense of civic duty. This is an uncovering of something known only in back rooms at the ministry. Ordinarily we know him for his surveys, done as a paid consultant. This time though he is impelled purely out of civic duty. He has seen something in his professional work that he knows is not right and damaging to the soul of this country. His testimony is heart-wrenching, because in the middle of all this are our innocents, children barely 12, made to be proxy soldiers for adults who use them to structure a society in which the distribution of educational opportunity is skewed in ways that is not seen in Jamaica or Barbados.
In two articles, Henry shows the de facto processes of SEA placement to be secret, unfair to many students, uneven in their application, and at best idiosyncratic. Some of what he reports shows possible fraud in student placement. He provides damning case evidence showing that one student can score significantly lower than his or her peers in their school, or in their district, and yet climb above them to get first choice, and to be placed in one of the highly valued prestige schools. This suggests that in the secretive back rooms of the SEA, there is officially sanctioned and supervised cheating. Child A scores 300, and child B scores 250, and yet Child B is placed in his first-choice prestige school, and Child A does not get first choice.
We have seen in this country over decades that great care is taken in processes for lottery or Play Whe, where auditors are brought on TV to demonstrate to the public that the processes are fair. Henry is aghast that a placement process on which the futures of generations of children and the social structure of this country depend, is done in secret without independent auditors present.
Henry discusses gender issues relating to the SEA but stays clear of the question of race. One notes that the Minister himself has commented publicly on gender differences in the SEA results, in favour of girls.
Sat Maharaj and others have insisted that Concordat rules of 1959 should apply in this contest for selection of schools. The Sunday Express of June 30 heralded Henry’s findings with the headline “Leaked SEA Results reveal how students are placed—The 20 per cent test”. Common understanding of how the Concordat works has turned on the question of the 20 per cent of children who the denominations can chose ahead of other children once they pass some threshold score. What Henry showed was that the 20 per cent threshold really is fiction, and that schools and denominations really did not resort to that rule at all. Some prestige schools, such as Lakshmi Girls’, have no restriction on who they bring in. They can admit 100 per cent of the children they want.
To get a further understanding of how or whether the 20 per cent rule worked, and especially the racial effects of it, I looked at the SEA results published in the Express of June 29 and used Indian names as a proxy for the race of children. It is true that in some cases in this country one cannot tell the race of a person by his/her name. Since the ministry has published the names of students assigned to the various schools, because of the distinctiveness of Indian names, one can use this as a proxy to determine racial placement. In many contests of this order, numbers are used rather than names since names would provide clues to race. For example, it is possible by looking at the results to tell where Chinese students were placed because of the distinctiveness of their names.
Using the published names of children as the source of data, I determined whether a child had an East Indian name or not. On that basis I generated tables showing the percentage of children with Indian names who passed for an array of prestige schools. The data show astronomical high placement of children with Indian names in prestige schools, whether those schools are Hindu, Presbyterian, Catholic, or Government. The test cases are Lakshmi, 94.4 per cent placement; Shiva Boys, 97.1 per cent; Parvati Girls, 97.1 per cent; Vishnu Boys, 97.1 per cent; Naparima Girls’, 90.6 per cent; Naparima College, 81.9 per cent; Presentation Chaguanas, 78.6 per cent; Presentation College, San Fernando, 54.2 per cent; Couva East, Boys, 87.5 per cent, and Hillview, 66.9 per cent.
So much for the 20 per cent rule. If the system allows you to select 100 per cent that is what you will do.
My simple method shows a clear tendency in the placement of children with Indian names. In this country, the prestige Hindu and Presbyterian schools accept Indian children almost exclusively. But these children are also accepted in the majority by Catholic prestige schools notably Presentation College, and the very few Government prestige schools, notably Couva East and St Georges College.
These schools are excluding African children routinely. They depend on taxpayers’ dollars for their funding, but they can function as exclusionary race-based private schools.
It should be clear now that with PNM in power, black children continue to have no champions. The clear need here is for the upgrading of several Government secondary schools. Many of these schools do not offer science, or A’ Levels. Pre-schools which black children desperately need remain unopened. Primary schools all over Laventille, Morvant, Diego Martin, and Marabella, are on academic watch. The Minister is none the wiser, however. I don’t think he has grasp of the job. This is education in 2019, not 1959. The Minister has not travelled to see what education is like these days in places like Finland. He is in a time warp, as Sea Lots and Laventille continue to pick up the bodies of young black men not long out of school. Black children deserve an equal place in secondary schools of excellence. Black pearls need to be nourished, not consigned to the backwaters of the school system, where teachers take time off for relaxation and reflection, every day, under the protection of TTUTA.