When the results of the 2020 SEA examination were challenged earlier this year, it was by the parents of a student who believed that their child deserved to be awarded the President’s Medal for achieving the top marks of any student that year. Of course, they only came by this discovery after reviewing the student’s score in the English Language Art Writing component, which revised the original score of 18 to give him a full 20 out of 20, an increase of 2 marks. Interestingly, even though this student didn’t even rank in the top ten performers of 2020 prior to the revision, the increase of 2 marks in the least weighty category of the SEA exams allowed him to increase his rank to the number one position.
Here’s the thing, this topic had been widely debated when the matter first arose, mere days prior to the awarding of the President’s Medal for the 2020 SEA exams, with the conversation strictly centered around which of the two students ought to have received the top prize medal. However, it is worth revisiting in the wake of some nonsensical remarks by the Minister of Education following the announcement of the 2022 SEA results, because it speaks to a greater issue regarding the way these results are viewed. Specifically, if in fact, two marks in one subject allow a student to rise above ten students or more in the ranking, it means that the percentage differential between the top 20 students is so minuscule that all of them genuinely have a shot at the top spot with a proper revision of their scores.
This brings me to the ridiculous decision by Dr. Nyan Gasby-Dolly to postpone the announcement of the top-placed SEA student for 2022 until the review process has expired, simply because of, as she puts it, “unhealthy competitiveness.” This new policy comes after the Ministry of Education, in 2021, under the PNM, decided to stop releasing the names of the top 200 students out of fear of the same reason given. When you really consider these two specific decisions side-by-side, however, especially in regards to the reason given for their implementation, you discover that not only does this course of action make no sense, but it actually will create the opposite effect to what the government hopes to achieve.
As I explained earlier, with the top twenty rankings being as close together as they are to allow even the smallest increase to bum someone from the lower half to the top of the list, then it is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that the top 200 students might fall within a range of about two percent of the overall marks. If that is the case and the goal as stated by the Minster of Education is to reduce the level of competitiveness among students without negatively affecting their academic performance, then doesn’t it make more sense to honor this larger group of individuals rather than the top two? Especially because, when the total number of students taking the examination is in the vicinity of nineteen thousand, the top two hundred appears to be a much more achievable goal than simply the top two highest-scoring students.
But more than this, if the Minister truly wishes to prevent “unhealthy competitiveness” then why would she create an environment that encourages parents to pursue a review of grades if they think their child has a shot at the President’s Medal. Not only will this increase the anxiety of both the children and their parents for a longer period of time after the results are released, as they await the end of the review process, but it also presents the child with a second opportunity at disappointment if the results are unfavorable. Moreover, it will undoubtedly increase the number of reviews for students who have already passed for their first choice of school placement but are merely hoping to cop the medal for an extra bit of pride and bragging rights.
This all being said, what this decision accomplishes, and the message it sends to our children is that academic achievements mean nothing if you’re unaware or unable to game the system in your favor. Honestly, this has always been a problem with school placements on a whole, but to see it now being applied to the President’s Medal award system adds salt to the wounds of all those students who have studied and prepared for so long, only to learn that the entire system was rigged against them from the very start.
Ravi Balgobin Maharaj
Mob: +1 868 476-6181