Above: Students. Photo by Michael Jung, DepositPhotos.
BitDepth#1192 for April 11, 2019
After the SEA examinations last week, Newsday posed a question to its followers on social media: “What are your memories of SEA/Common Entrance exams?”
I declined to answer. I had no hopeful or even funny stories. Indeed, all I can recall clearly in the year leading up to the exams – which I took after being moved from Tranquillity Primary, where I wasn’t doing well, to Romilly’s Preparatory – is a series of blinding headaches.
It was the Common Entrance, the grinding predecessor of the SEA that introduced me to stress headaches.
It took decades for me to learn to manage my migraines, stabbing shafts of agony that lanced through the top right of my skull like fish gutting blades and left me helpless, unable to do more than whimper in a darkened room and wait for the triphammer throbbing to subside.
So my clearest memory of the morning I sat the Common Entrance was Arthur McCrae, a kindly handyman and long-term friend to my family, taking up his post outside QRC with a bottle of Limacol, a clean towel and a thermos of cold water, just in case I ‘did take een’ and needed assistance.
I did not, though I was a bit giddy and lightheaded after leaving the examination.
I would attend the school of my mother’s first choice (What did I know about secondary schools at 11?) Trinity College and win a ‘book grant,’ a small sum paid at the start of each school year to the best students to help with the cost of their school books.
School ended for me with sixth form. I was tired of the whole experience and was keen to do and to learn, not study to an increasingly irrelevant curriculum.
I’d spend most of my sixth form years editing the school newspaper and printing it on stencils and my final months there writing overwrought film reviews for the Sunday Punch.
It was a decision to take the professional’s path, though I did not know it then, a journey of continuous learning and adaptation.
Fifty years after I wandered out of the unfamiliar halls of QRC into the blinding midday sunlight after that exam, I have only one question for the scholars and intellects who do so little to change the SEA/CXC model of learning.
“Would you, by choice, return to that methodology to learn anything you consider of value today?”
Should anyone turn to the back of an exercise book to learn anything by rote, including my personal nemesis, the six times table?
Looking back at everything I learned at school, I can point to my teachers in English Literature and Language, some experiences in the sciences that urged my curiosity about the rigor of the scientific method and Archie Edwards, my General Paper teacher, for the most significant things that live with me today.
Foremost among them was Edwards’ laser clear illumination of a single principle, “We go to school to learn how to learn.”
It’s a remarkable perspective.
Today, there is surely need for a common platform of learning, things that we all know so that there is mutual understanding of basic principles. Call it the lingua franca of schooling.
Beyond that, we need a wide base of possibilities, exposure to concepts and principles that simply don’t exist in the school curriculum today.
Railing against the SEA and the CXC because of the stress they cause is valid, but the damage they wreak is even greater now, because they are part of an education system that prepares children for a world that simply doesn’t exist anymore.
We are earnestly upholding and perpetuating a colonial legacy of education that was born in an industrial era, demanding fodder for factories and clerical desks, in a determinedly post industrial world.
Of what use are the bold proclamations of TT’s preparations for a fourth industrial revolution while we cheerfully prepare our children for an imagined life in the third?
General education was designed for a cycle of life that held fast for centuries.
Learn common basics. Select specialty study that defined a career path.
Attain the best qualifications for that career. Get a job in that career. Advance incrementally. Retire. Die.
But what happens when entire careers appear and disappear like a hibiscus flower?
We are all now professionals, whether we understand that or not. Learning will not end when we graduate for the last time. To survive, we will need to be scholars for life.
That is not what the SEA and CXC teach today’s children, and for that reason, they must be rapidly rethought, reconsidered and reengineered to create the resource of skill that this century will demand.
Any politician who stands in the way of that should be briskly sidelined for the good of the nation.