by Shastri Maharaj

One of the harshest initiation rites any child has to undergo in this land is the SEA, once called Common Entrance examination. It breeds fear, panic and high anxiety levels in all and sundry. No one is excused, pardoned or removed from the reality of this situation. Face it, I am sure you know of someone who is either preparing to enter college for the first time or of someone who has decided to "confront" the examination for a second time.

I remember in 1964, the time when I happened to be one of those unfortunate students that had to re-sit the "dreaded" Common Entrance. Personally, I did not feel badly about the failure, maybe it had to do with the fact that I was still too immature to fully grasp the implications and ramification of such action.

However, this was not the case with my parents, in particular my mother. I could feel that she was hurting and that she did not particularly wanted to magnify the ever increasing depression, poor self esteem and confusion that she felt was slowly overpowering me. Nevertheless, her disappointment, hurt, embarrassment along with my apparent "'doh key damm" attitude resulted in a very serious physical confrontation with me. I don't have to tell you who was at the receiving end.

It was then and only then that I realized the seriousness which my mother had attached to the common entrance examination. This exam had to be important and therefore it meant I had to please my mother, make her happy. It also meant that, for some strange reason, Common Entrance was connected to education. Of course, my father always said that he was his own boss and education was the only thing that no one could take away from anybody.

I can just imagine the trauma many of those youngsters experience with their parents as they prepare to return to their old primary school or attempt to question their placement at a Junior Secondary school. It is during these times that reflect such duress, that parents need to be understanding, caring, forgiving and most of all, wise. Children have seen their peers openly flaunt their new success whilst they can only sit back quietly end cringe. Some parents even go so far and label their child as dunce (part of an acceptable norm) and incapable of any academic achievement (as if that is the only thing that counts). I know in a lot of these instances most of these parents themselves have also been similarly labelled by their parents...a truly vicious circle.

Issues with respect to the Common Entrance in terms of its good and bad points are not reconcilable . It never really will. There are just too many social factors that impinge upon this type of selection for entry into the secondary school system.

Therefore, my task here is not to question the pros and cons of this system but rather to highlight the manner in which the Ministry of Education deals with this examination. My particular concern is the psychological one that impacts upon the child and parents before, during and after this exercise.

I assume the onus would be on the teachers of the common entrance classes to counsel both parents and students. I don't know of any specialized programme put on by the Ministry of Education to brief, equip, inform and up date SEA teachers in the peadagogy that is required to calm and reassure them that this exercise is not in fact as bad as a dose of "sena and salts".

If, however, our teachers are able to effectively counsel (and most of them, I'm sure, do a good job) students during their sojourn at school that is all well and good. But what about post-results time? Who is there for these students to offer the kind of specialized assistance that is so badly needed at this time?
A lot of parents for sure are ill-equipped to counsel (in an obviously emotional environment) and identify the areas in which they have erred with respect to the manner they may have guided their child's preparation for the exam. They, the parents may unknowingly, because of their deep desire to have their child pass this exam may repeat their assistance in a similar manner and thus undue and added stress is imposed upon both child and parent. The end result in most instances being no different.
Has the Ministry given thought to a programme that can assist parents in this respect? The new Educational Learning Resource Centre can be the initiator of such a programme. Parent-Teachers Associations also need to play a part in helping in the organization and development of an ongoing programme to instill worthwhile and constructive value systems to parents or families that may require it.
Specialists in the field of counselling and psychology, medicine and education, business and administration and the religion and the arts all need to become recruits in this kind of scheme. The potential for delinquent and unfavourable behaviour that would normally precede students who have found themselves in this "disposition" and the consequently negative impact it can have upon our society must not be taken lightly. The reality of the situation is that a lot of homes are ill-equipped to monitor, guide train, advise and demonstrate acceptable mode of conduct and behaviours, because of impoverished home environments which are either plagued with a rapid breakdown in moral and ethical conduct, inadequate living conditions, poor health and diet, unemployment, high levels of substance abuse and physical abuse, incorrect role models, the "magic 'of television, high crime rate and, of course, the "single parent" syndrome.

The complete lack of acceptable "support system" to cater and to accommodate and to assist these families mentally, socially, morally and administratively have yet to be put in place. I am talking about the moral conscience of this society, not a political hand-out. I am talking about situations in which we all are involved. I am talking about your child, nephew, cousin, neighbour, friend. This is everybody's problem.

Nevertheless, I know for a fact that there can never be any justifiable and suitable substitute for the common entrance exam simply from an ethnic perspective. Tradition is a hard thing to change. As long as there is religion there will always be Denominational Schools. And we know their track record.

It is regrettable that the majority of children who have been unsuccessful in the last SEA exam will not be the beneficiary of probably prudent counselling from their immediate family. Maybe an introduction or exposure to any initial education in the arts from Infants to SEA class can operate as a support system in assisting these students to constructively and creatively cope with this demise and in their future lives.

It can operate as an avenue in which students can vent and express their true and inner emotions and feelings which are important to them at this time. The ability to become involved in the process of experiencing is more important than the product. It is within the art education and activity where the student will discover his individuality, independence and decision making skills. Traits which can truly support him into leading a positive and productive life.

However, our people have shown over the years their tremendous ability to overcome hurdles. Many of our young people have eventually become enviable role models. In a lot of ways failure can be a blessing in disguise, providence, karma, a sign for introspection, a time for soul-searching, change, sharing and unity in the family.

And to all those kids out there I say to you ... the greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time you fall...