R. Rose
June 12, 2009
Common Entrance: Violence against children?

Our eleven-pluses can now heave a big breath of relief following the release of the 2009 Common Entrance results. Well, at least the successful ones! My congratulations to all those who sat (they had to strive to do so), those who passed, and especially those who excelled.{{more}} Congrats also to all who contributed to such success – teachers, relatives and friends, and parents, those economically hard-pressed in particular who had to make tremendous sacrifices in order to get their children to reach that far. It ain’t easy, Education Revolution or not. Which brings me to another point. Here we have another batch of over 1,000 students starting a secondary school career who will all be job-hunting in the next 10-15 years. Shouldn’t we be following up the Education Revolution with an Economic Revolution so as to ensure that we can comfortably absorb those we educate into productive and rewarding jobs?

Back to the Common Entrance, however, and its social implications. There has been some debate in our society, largely subdued at present, about whether this examination ought to be scrapped. A lot of it has to do with academic approaches, but my concerns are on the social side. There is perhaps no greater pressure that our children have to undergo than those surrounding the Common Entrance examination. It has become the yardstick by which we, as a society, make value judgements about our children and their supposed “intelligence”. This begins to take place long before the exam itself, in preparation for getting our loved ones “in common entrance class.” Once there, the screws are turned mercilessly, as though passing the Common Entrance is the dividing line between success and failure in life.

Admittedly, part of the driving force behind this relentless pushing of the students is parental concern about getting their children into the “right” school, but as standards even out (not fast enough to be truthful), this argument will hold less weight. However, we have not yet reached that stage, and the luxury of choice will continue to motivate parents, if not students. The single most contributory factor behind this “absolutising” of the Common Entrance is, in my humble opinion, the EGO of adults-parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nennen, teacher, “tout mon bagai” as they say in kweyol (patois).

The results of the Common Entrance bring with them great social prestige, albeit temporarily. “My son came first, you know”; “My granddaughter was in the first five for girls”; “Our school had the highest percentage of passes…”.

In order to satisfy this social lusting of ours, we become virtual slave-drivers, paying little regard to the recreational needs of these young ones, all in pursuit of the first “Holy Grail” of our educational system. It matters not what psychological damage we cause in the process, the orgasm of Common Entrance success is our ultimate goal. The children? “But it’s for their own good, we argue. They will be thankful to us later in life when they realize what we have done.” Have we ever taken the time to reflect on whether this approach is the best or the only one? Do we take time to consider whether we are not, for noble reasons, inflicting serious psychological damage on our youngsters, distorting the role and place of exams in their education? It is not too late to take a time-out now that the exam is finished.

There is also the damage to the psyche of those who barely make it, the disappointment expressed at the child having to go to School X instead of a prestigious School Y or Z. It is as if they are somewhat lesser in value than those who make it to the “big” schools, and the school to which they are finally admitted, a bit inferior. Not officially, of course, for the line is that all schools are equal, (Only that some are “more equal than others”, to use the irony expressed in the book ANIMAL FARM). As for those who do not pass, then the very body language of parent, relative, friend and schoolmate says it all. Fortunately for us, there are examples of some who fell at the first hurdle, completing the race with flying colours, but all too few.

We have just held activities to mark the Month against violence to children. A very good idea, especially the emphasis on sexual abuse of minors. Psychological abuse is also very damaging, though more difficult to immediately detect. Does our approach to Common Entrance fit into this category? And while we are at it, in the context of the educational system, should we not also consider physical abuse? Not beating from adults, whether teacher or parent, but the physical damage we inflict by straining those young bodies with bags piled with heavy books, toting to and from school everyday. Is that the best way to prepare our children for future life? Is that a helpful approach to get them to love and value school and education? Or are we telling them that obtaining education is a heavy burden?

Nuff said, for I am not an expert in these matters, (on any issues for that matter), but perhaps some food for thought.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.