FLASHBACK... Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly addresses some of this year's SEA candidates on exam day back in August 2020.
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Lecturer at the University of the West Indies-ROYTEC, Dr Patrick Quan Kep, says a highly motivated principal is key to the proper running of schools.

He was speaking at a virtual seminar organized by the Indo Caribbean Cultural Centre to discuss the abolition of the SEA exam and the Concordat of 1960 — an agreement between the state and religious bodies that gives them the right to determine their curricula in denominational schools.

Dr Quan Kep said there was a need to re-evaluate the Concordat which some people contend was stymying educational progress. However, he said the Concordat and SEA were not the reasons why some schools were under-performing.

“We cannot do away with the Concordat. We try to look at it and make some adjustments. I’ve heard people talking about making 20 per cent to 10 per cent. I don’t know what adjustments are being planned but we need to make some adjustments because it is 60 years old and we need to see how best we can fashion it to suit our present situation,” he added.

He added that the SEA exam should not be abolished but there should be better monitoring of schools to ensure that standards are kept.

“We need a highly motivated principal—the key figure in any transformation. We need strong external support. The Ministry of Education seems to be lagging far behind and we need committed staff. We also need continuous assessment with schools, assessing their movement and goals,” Dr Quan Kep said.

Meanwhile, former politician Ralph Maraj said the educational system was fostering social decadence.

“Our underperforming schools have been a major contributor to social decay. In our schools, there is the engendering of illiteracy, hooliganism, promiscuity, and general decadence in our nation’s campuses,” Maraj said.

He listed several schools rampant with juvenile delinquency, noting that in Siparia West Secondary the school population dropped from 1,500 to 500.

“Which mother or father will want their children in a school where sexual promiscuity is rampant. Child prostitution and porn is a major problem in schools. The young ladies take pictures of themselves in sexual activity with various partners. Students are having sex on the road, in vehicles and on private properties, videotaping sex in the back of the class,” Maraj said.

He called on the Ministry to monitor underperforming schools and to put standardized systems in place to ensure better performance.

Meanwhile, political scientist and former temporary independent senator, Dr Kirk Meighoo, said the attack on the Concordat has various dimensions which include resentment of religion, scape-goating of religious and ethnic groups, and demonstrating false victimhood and discrimination to explain failure by so many children of African descent in the existing system.

He said the 20 per cent intake was being blamed as the reason why many Afro-Trinidad children were not excelling.

“The PNM has misrepresented what the Concordat and SEA are about. The SEA is a placement exam that allows children from anywhere to get into the best schools no matter what your economic situations are,” Meighoo said.

He noted that the SEA comes from the Island Schol system from which many Afro-Trinidadian children won scholarships. Meighoo said over the decades, however, this has changed.

“We need to speak about why Afro-Trinidadians have lost their primacy in the merit-based examination system. This has to do a lot with the family structure. It is not because of SEA or the Concordat that Afro-Trinidadians have lost their primacy,” Meighoo said.

“Removing the Concordat is a move by the PNM to completely take control and rewrite the history. They have no interest in the improvement of the education system, not for their people,” Meighoo said.

Meanwhile, former Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said denominational boards have been maintaining schools for many years with the government’s aid.

“To decide to move away from the Concordat and take away the schools from the Boards will be unpleasant and difficult to do,” Gopeesingh said.

He noted that underperforming schools were not the result of SEA or the Concordat but were a reflection of societal problems.

“When you have single parents who are not managing their children, or when parents do not take responsibility for their children and when you have teachers who are not committed, this is the result,” Gopeesingh said.

He noted that under the UNC, the government arranged for widespread consultation and implemented changes in 17 areas.

However, he said these inroads were reversed when the PNM took office.