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### Enhancing Trinidad and Tobago’s Education System Through Constitutional Reform

60 Minutes Ago –

An ideal starting point for discussing constitutional reform in the education system is reflecting on the aftermath of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA). Numerous education experts and observers have long criticized the SEA as an outdated and unnecessary high-pressure exam that reinforces a divided secondary school system, perpetuating socio-economic disparities and serving specific interests.

The conclusion of SEA 2024 marks a significant milestone for over 18,000 students. The Minister rightly emphasized that this event signifies the commencement of a new chapter in their educational journey rather than the culmination.

Historically, before the establishment of universal secondary education, SEA and its predecessors acted as a measure to transition students to secondary schools due to limited available spots. However, over time, it transformed into a high-stakes evaluation, partly influenced by a peculiar provision in the Constitution granting parents the authority to select their child’s school. This practice led to the annual creation of a hierarchy of schools based on various non-educational factors.

Parents were empowered to designate their preferred schools for their children, further complicated by the Concordat, which granted schools the autonomy to choose their students. Regrettably, this constitutional right was impractical for most parents, resulting in the State assigning the majority of students to secondary institutions.

Consequently, this system fostered a culture of unnecessary high-stakes assessments, starting with SEA, which often labeled more children as failures rather than successes based on arbitrary selection criteria.

This outdated framework hinders the education system’s ability to progress in alignment with principles of fairness and equity, hindering societal needs. Despite substantial investments and recognition of the necessity for reform, the system’s outdated structure persists.

Interestingly, the current constitutional provisions lack a specific guarantee ensuring all children access quality education, a right emphasized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. While free education has been available at primary and secondary levels for over two decades, issues of equity persist due to structures like SEA and parental school selection, limiting the benefits of free schooling.

The annual creation of school hierarchies based on parental choices perpetuates segregation within secondary schools, reflecting existing socio-economic divisions.

When marginalized students are concentrated in schools through SEA without adequate resources, educational outcomes suffer, impacting overall societal growth and productivity. This deficiency not only stifles economic progress but also contributes to negative outcomes like crime, reflecting a loss in human capital.

Numerous recommendations have been proposed over the years to reform the education system, emphasizing the importance of modernizing legislative frameworks and fostering political will to enact change.

The ongoing efforts towards constitutional reform present an opportunity to address barriers hindering genuine educational transformation. By establishing an equitable education system that guarantees all children access to quality public education, the country can nurture critical thinking and innovation, unlocking individual potential.

This shift would challenge existing privileged interests, paving the way for a more inclusive and effective educational landscape. It is imperative for political leaders to prioritize the nation’s best interests by dismantling barriers to quality education, eliminating the need for high-stakes assessments like SEA.