Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, the SWAHA Board of Education, as a partner in education, holds a genuine interest in the equitable and transparent provision of educational opportunities for our nation’s children.
Therefore, we write to express serious concerns regarding the abrupt reduction in the number of scholarships and the new national bursary programme based on the results of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) 2020.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has said that the new scholarship scheme, which includes the allocation of scholarships in the ten cognate groupings, is aligned to the nation’s priority areas of development.
However, failure to articulate clear, comprehensive and credible change systems prior to goal setting has negatively impacted the future aspirations of our children.
Having chosen subjects in Form Three, many pupils would have planned their educational path well in advance of the CAPE 2020 sitting of exams and are now denied equivalent access to opportunities that were previously provided to their peers. Sensitisation workshops or seminars about the national priorities should have been conducted prior to this drastic change.
Greater consultation with all stakeholders should have taken place prior to the implementation of such a major change in the educational landscape.
Decision-making devoid of deliberation and the critical input of stakeholders can only lead to dissent and divisiveness. Our board, in solidarity with the sentiments expressed by various other denominational boards, believes that our presence and voice have been repressed in this matter.
All schools are currently not operationalised to provide the full CAPE subject offerings in all ten cognate groupings.
Schools have not been provided with the necessary staff and resources to allow equal opportunities for our children to pursue the groupings as aligned to the nation’s priority areas of development.
Therefore, the pupil’s freedom of choice is severely impeded by the absence of a full complement of subject combinations.
These unsolicited changes during an already tumultuous pandemic have not only added to the emotional trauma experienced by some pupils but also prevented them from obtaining the best possible opportunities for educational pursuits. We once again echo the sentiments of other stakeholders who have called for a phased reduction of the number of scholarships.
Notwithstanding the decision by the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago, we ask that consideration be given to increasing the number of national scholarships (based solely on merit) to 200 and awarding 400 national bursaries.
The relatively low weighting of 30 per cent for academic merit, equated to 30 per cent means, questions the system used to assess bursary allocation devoid of any prejudice.
The system of meritocracy is clear cut and lends itself to a very transparent way of assessing and rewarding. Conversely, “means test” leaves open questions that lead to subjectivity, disparity and ambiguity.
How are parents’ economic standing going to be measured? What formula is being used to decide which child suitably qualifies based on their parents’ earnings, or lack thereof?
Pupils should be responsible for their own destiny. The pathway to empowerment should be legitimised by the individual’s responsibility to work hard and diligently, and not be diluted by external assessing agents of their socio-economic status.
Objectivity and transparency must be the order of the day. Thirty per cent: 15 per cent allocation for alignment to priority areas of development and 15 per cent to extracurricular/contribution to community/country is quite a large percentage to decide the awarding of bursaries.
A comprehensive rubric to award 15 per cent based on a pupil’s contribution should be explicitly stated, and we must be assured that these recommendations come from credible sources.
The SWAHA Board of Education therefore seeks to engage the Ministry of Education in discussions about the methodology used in the “means test”, “contribution to the community” and “purpose statement”.
The Ministry of Education must also be prepared to provide clear justification for any pupil who queries why they were denied a national bursary.
We seek to work with the Ministry of Education through our binding relationship to provide excellence in education. May our goals be seamlessly aligned and transitioned to enable the due process of effective decision-making and educational reform.
Pt Balram Persad
director of education, SWAHA Inc