image courtesy giphy.com
The Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam roller-coaster ride is in full throttle and this year it seems like many more are aboard than ever before. For the benefit of the uninitiated, the SEA is an exam held in Trinidad and Tobago for the sole purpose of placing 10 to 13 year-olds in secondary schools. We don’t have the luxury of an education system where children move seamlessly from one grade to the next. Rather it is preferred to stress children out at this stage with a high stakes exam that society has deemed ‘the-most-important-ever-you-will-write-in-your-life-because-it-determines-your-singular-future’ and we as Trinbagonians hold dear all the emotional and cultural elements involved.
I refer to it as the SEA cycle because EVERY YEAR WITHOUT FAIL, these are the motions that parents, teachers and stakeholders go through (aloud and privately) and by stakeholders I mean the man on the street, people by the bar, cleaners on lunchbreak, people in the salon/barber shop, fass (nosy) neighbours and anybody with a keyboard and a social media account who has had a child or knew a child who wrote the exam.
Now since it is a cycle, naturally I could pick at any point to start but I think I will begin at the September term of standard 5, what was once nine but is now seven months before the exam since starting this year 2019, it was moved from May back to March.
The SEA cycle from September has you:
- Praying that the standard five year passes quickly.
- Hoping that the child doesn’t need extra textbooks in standard five because right now all they are supposed to be doing are practice tests so parents get to save money (yay!).
- Realizing that the extra money is to actually pay for the practice tests and a possible increase in lessons fees (dammit!)
- Examining and discussing secondary school choices with the fervour of a gambler studying the Play Whe* booklet.
- Going back and forth to pick four schools between teacher, spouse, granny, neighbour, work colleagues, priest, pundit and pastor.
- Perusing ALL Facebook comments to understand what the hell people talking about with ‘percentile’ and ‘composite score’.
- Finally choosing the four schools and in some unfortunate cases hoping that the child’s work will improve to match.
- Stockpiling Express, Newsday and Guardian newspapers and endlessly quarrelling about the mistakes on the answer key.
- Posting sums on Facebook for help because you and all don’t even understand what kinda high-falutin’ maths is this?
- Silently panicking because the child is ‘still’ scoring in the 80s for end-of-term tests.
- Ensuring that Christmas is still merry despite the drama with this exam.
- Welcoming the new year with a sole focus on the SEA countdown as a main priority and hardly anything else.
- Making sure the curriculum is fully covered by asking the child random process questions in Math, Language Arts and Creative Writing to keep them sharp at the same time,
- Running out of steam and letting the teachers do what they get paid to do and at the same time,
- Messaging the teacher (at random and sometimes ungodly hours) if they covered this topic, that topic and the third topic because teachers are supposed to be accessible and have patience……….
- Running out of practice test booklets as even though some are better than others, all were necessary.
- Wondering how involved the child should be for school sports…..because…..SEA…..yet,
- Wondering for your own self if to conduct a hermit vibes or a YOLO vibes for Carnival.
- Realizing that you have done all you could do and praying for the day of the exam to come and go because this stress is too much.
- Being fed-up of practice tests yourself.
- Feeling the stress but not showing the stress to the child because if the child senses you are stressed then that will make you more stressed and then you lose your ability to hide the stress properly (mini-cycle).
- Seeing the stress in the child anyhow and trying your best to strike a proper balance between ‘try one more question’ and ‘go and sleep, you need rest’.
- Googling ‘how to cope with exam anxiety’.
- Venting on supportive Facebook groups.
- Arguing with Facebook group members who won’t let you vent in peace about SEA because the Judging Amys are always there to serve.
- Waiting impatiently for the day of the exam.
- Not sleeping the night before the exam but making damn sure that the child sleeps free of nerves.
- Not eating the morning of the exam but pretending to and at the same time making sure the child is locked and loaded.
- Sending the child off to do the exam with a warm smile and a racing heart.
- Scouring Facebook for commentary while the exam is going on because you need more stress.
- Seeing people posting about the difficulty of the Math and the Creative Writing and praying again that your child conquered it.
- Breathing a sigh of relief when the exam is over and seeing your child look like a child once more but,
- Still asking which sum was difficult or if the report was easy or who was crying.
- Occasionally looking on social media for ANY mention of the day for results to release.
- Feeling the anxiety rise again but loving the graduation preparations that balance it out!
- Channeling Doctor Strange and creating all the possible outcomes of the results and your plans A to D of reactions to match.
- Realizing that some people are getting close and suddenly checking in because they want to have the front seat to know ‘what school your child pass for?’
- Realizing that waiting for results is exponentially worse than waiting for the exam.
- Being excited that the child passed for first, second, third or fourth choice.
- Not being excited that the child was zoned out and preparing to enact plan E if there is one while keeping it cool and keeping the child encouraged.
- Knowing that there are ‘good’ schools and there are ‘bad’ schools.
- Knowing that these two are relative to experience but accepting certain realities,
- Understanding that this is the way the system is set up which is the first step to knowing how to manoeuvre in it.
- Defending the good in ‘bad’ schools and the bad in ‘good’ schools.
- Listing a world of experiences in each circumstance to make the relevant justifications.
- Arguing about the Concordat^ and why we should have ‘prestige’ schools and how unfair it is’
- But knowing that given the chance……..
- Gearing up for the money game (registration fees, books, uniforms, private schools, tutors, re-sits)
- Gearing up for the next child to go through this all over again and realizing that the SEA is the most effective form of birth control there is, much like trying to get a child into primary school.
- Going back to the beginning of the cycle there when your next child is at the end of standard four for another ride on the roller coaster.
These are the main stages on the ups and the downs of SEA and I am quite certain that this list is not exhaustive just as I am certain that some of you may not have passed through all the stages. So in the heat of it while we get all riled up year after year, remember we have to come back down to go around again unless you want to try a different ride because this one so played out…..year…..after…..year. If that is the case remember, EVERYBODY has to get on board to demand a better ride, something new and different that caters to our children and that is less of a harrowing experience for all who are buckled in. 😉
*Play Whe is a popular betting game in Trinidad and Tobago. Each number is assigned a character and many people tend to look for signs in dreams and in daily activity to give them an idea what number to play. It is Chinese in origin. More info here: http://www.nlcbplaywhelotto.com/
^The Concordat in its simplest terms is that the Principals of denominational (‘prestige’) schools are given the right to allocate 20% of its new intake based on religion and other factors. So once you can get your child on that list, you are good to go. Read more about that here: http://moe.gov.tt/portals/0/documents/notices/concordat_60.pdf