Activist and former UNC candidate, Marsha Walker, has made a freedom-of-information request to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education for a series of documents relating to the ranking of students in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam.
In her application, Walker, through her attorney Vishaal Siewsaran of Freedom Law Chambers, are demanding that government provide them with the following: the top 100 ranked students in the 2022 SEA examination and the criteria used to rank them; details of recognition and rewards to top performers before the decision was made not to publish their names; the number of FOIA requests from parents for information on their children’s ranking since the ministry stopped publishing the list; and whether a monetary prize is still given to students who top the exam.
Siewsaran said the disclosure of the top performers at the SEA, “is an entrenched policy that was observed by all governments until July 2022 when the present administration suddenly announced that it will no longer continue with this policy of disclosure.”
“No credible explanation or justification was given,” Siewsaran said in the letter to the ministry’s PS.
He also said the ministry had not given any “convincing rationale” for why the ministry had abolished the publication of the top 200 SEA candidates, nor were there public consultations to get views of parents or teachers. Siewsaran also said the decision was “fundamentally flawed.”
Siewsaran said the publication of the top-ranked students will not affect competition between students, since the SEA was still the entrance exam to determine which secondary school a child would be placed in, and that process was still heavily dependent on a child’s performance.
Walker believes the rationale advanced by the minister of education for not publishing the top 200 list was “unconvincing, unreasonable, and politically suspicious.”
Siewsaran also said historically, competition was integral to human development, and pointed to several events hosted by the ministry based on competition including InterCol, the schools’ football and cricket leagues; Junior Panorama, Junior Calypso and Chutney Monarch; the International Mathematical Olympiad; and the National Spelling Bee, among others.
The attorney said any attempt to eliminate competition among students was “farcical, irrational and destined to fail.”
Walker also hopes the information she is asking for can identify why it appears boys are underperforming; whether government schools are underperforming when compared to denominational schools; and what particular denominational board is excelling or failing; whether schools in any particular geographical area are performing better than others; and whether there is a “consistent ethnic imbalance in the top SEA performers that merits further research to determine the reasons for this and see whether it can be extrapolated in other schools.”
The attorney said Walker intends to publish a paper to stimulate public debate, adding, “Disclosure would be conducive to the public interest as a society is entitled to know who the top SEA performers are.”
Walker also wants information relating to a committee set up in 2021 to review the SEA and the Concordat between the government and denominational schools. The information on the committee she has asked for includes the letters of appointment of all 14 members; a copy of their terms of reference; and the total amount of remuneration paid to any member; its report; and, if there is none, the deadline for its submission.
The ministry was given 30 days to respond.