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An elated San Fernando TML Primary School student Ameerah Beekhoo reads her SEA result slip which showed she had passed for Naparima Girls’ High School.

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Girls took the top six places in this year’s Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examinations.

And although the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the usual result-day celebrations at schools around the country yesterday, the Ministry of Education honoured 11 students in a special ceremony at its Port-of-Spain headquarters. The students were given laptops and devices, along with internet packages from Unilever, Bmobile and the ministry during the ceremony.

San Fernando TML’s Ameerah Beekhoo placed first nationwide while Anjanaa Dan, from Trinidad Renaissance Prep in San Fernando, placed second and Sushmita Ramsawak, of Gandhi Memorial Vedic School in Aranguez, San Juan, was third.

The nation’s top male student Vineet Ramsarran, from Eniath’s Preparatory, who placed seventh nationwide, was also awarded.

The top two performers from special needs schools, Mattia Street, from the Cascade School for Deaf and Jordan Thorne, from Audrey Jeffers School for Deaf, were also awarded.

The ministry also selected five students from schools around the country who were on academic watch: Shanira Beekbakhee (St Helena Hindu), Adrianna Kerr (Morvant New Government), Elisea King (Cumaca RC), Princess Ramlal (Siparia RC) and Jewel Vaughans (Fifth Company AC).

“This year’s recognition of the outstanding performance of our SEA 2020 cohort reflects the inclusive vision 2030 society we strive to build,” Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly said during the ceremony.

She said the overall performance of students had also improved when compared to the 2019 results.

“Many of our students used the time wisely that was between when they were supposed to write the exam and when they actually wrote the exam. These exams were supposed to be written in March, it was written in August, we know that many schools made very good use of the time, many students were able to go over and over and yes we expected there would have been an increase in performance, the curriculum did not change but there was a lot more time for some students to really narrow in, zero down and get into their work,” Gadsby-Dolly said.

Gadsby-Dolly said the ministry will also again consider calls to have SEA abolished but the nation will have to weigh in on what should replace the exam. She said consultations were done in 2016 on removing the exam but the results showed the majority of stakeholders were not in favour of removing it.

“We have to decide as a country what we want to move forward with. You hear voices saying remove the SEA but what came out of the 2016 consultation was not that, so at this point, you have to examine it again, do we want to remove the SEA and what do we want to replace it with?” she asked.

Long, hard journey

for top students

The nation’s top-performing 2020 SEA student, Ameerah Beekhoo, yesterday described the journey to writing the exam as frustrating.

Beekhoo said her biggest challenge ahead of the exam, which was originally scheduled for April but was postponed until August because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was the constant need to keep studying because of the shifting exam dates.

However, she said she found a silver lining to the months of preparation.

“It paid off in the end because the extra time helped me perfect some areas and learn new things that I might not have known before,” Beekhoo told Guardian Media after collecting an award at the Ministry of Education.

Both of her parents are doctors and her mother, Dr Shari Khan, said an important step in preparing Beekhoo for the exam was knowing when to stop.

“It’s hard to see your children put so much effort into a final date for an exam and then find out it was cancelled and we didn’t know when it would be…we went the way of saying let’s stop everything and relax and then we started back very slowly with a lot of physical outdoor activities in our yard just to keep her occupied so she doesn’t get frustrated.”

Khan said the extracurricular activities Beekhoo participated in helped her to release frustration and anxiety over the exam.

She had this advice for parents who want their children to succeed: “Keep by the side of your children, don’t leave them unsupervised if you can help it. When you come home from work, go through what they have done during the day, spend some time with them but it is also important to spend some carefree time with them.”

Beekhoo’s father, Dr Nicholson Beekhoo, described the preparation for the exam as a roller coaster ride and said he was extremely proud of his daughter.

Second place student Anjanna Dan said she was surprised by the results.

“I am excited, I knew I would do what I wanted to do but I didn’t know I would come on top of the country like this,” Dan said.

Her father Dilip Dan also called for parents to allow children more recreational time to help them focus on their education.

Dan said the secret to his daughter’s success was no extra lessons.

“I think if you provide what is necessary and you allow this child to have the extra curriculum activities, like swimming, dancing, music, they help the child to focus, hence no need to do anything extra in terms of lessons,” he said.

Third place student Sushmita Ramsawak also expressed surprise at her results. Ramsawak said she had doubts that she had passed the exam after writing it.

“I wasn’t really expecting to pass for my first choice, I thought I did really badly but apparently I didn’t,” she said.