Loss of Talent through SSEE PERSPECTIVES
By Prem Misir
Guyana Chronicle
August 9, 2004

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THE presence of a small number of high schools in 1963 induced the UNESCO (UNESCO Report, 1963) to recommend that primary schools be restructured to create a ‘high school’ department up to form III. The recommendation was accepted and primary schools initially became known as ‘all-age’ schools. Those students, who were not recipients of a general secondary school placement through the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE), were placed in the Secondary Department of Primary Schools (SDPS) and Community High Schools. Today this practice is still the norm.

Selection for a secondary school place is not based on success per se, but on the number of secondary school places available and preferences for schools. Although the Ministry of Education has in the past argued that selection of students for general secondary school placement is based on the number of places available, an assessment criterion is applied to achieve the allocation. The criterion used is a percentage of scores obtained at the SSEE. That criterion has a strong academic element, which is evident in the allocation of students with the highest scores to the top elite secondary schools.

Bacchus (1966) found that students whose parents had high socioeconomic status, performed excellently at the SSEE, compared to students from a low socioeconomic status parentage who performed poorly. Clearly, then, at that time, students with a high socioeconomic status would have been attending the senior and junior secondary schools in relatively greater numbers than students with a low socioeconomic status. Therefore, the SSEE only considers the manifest aptitude and not the latent aptitude of students, and so many students are inappropriately placed because of this early selection process.

The early selection process through the SSEE, allocates students to various types of schools, largely according to their socioeconomic status. Having a secondary school examination incorporating strong academic elements, and having schools classified as academic and nonacademic, reinforce the class structure of the society. It is more appropriate to establish an education system which provides a level playing field for all its students. A useful strategy is to set up one type of secondary school, with a general curriculum, which would be available in all secondary schools for all children.

This one type of secondary school would not generate class distinctions and reinforce the class structure, but would oppose them, or at the very least be benign. In addition, availability of places as a criterion for the allocation of students to secondary schools is used to conceal the class policy of selection to these varied types of school.

SDPS and Community High School
The SDPS has persisted over a long period, but with huge reductions, from 37% in 1980 to 17% in 2000-2001. Therefore, it’s plausible to suggest that we are beginning to see the end of SDPS. In fact, about 67% of students now are in general secondary schools compared to 49% and 46% in the previous Administration.

There are two reasons why an SDPS and a community high school student may fail as a school leaver, demonstrating possible educational marginalization for working-class students. These are:

· The problem of introducing SDPS and community high schools aimed at de-emphasizing the more prestigious type of traditional education, required parallel changes in the reward structure of society (Bacchus, 1980:130). In effect, the reward structure of the job market has to be congruent with the educational changes, or vice versa.

· The SDPS and community high school leaver’s competition for jobs is rather poor, for the occupational structure still favours those skills provided by the elite and general secondary schools.

Table 1: Enrolment By Type of School

General Secondary Secondary Dept of Primary

Community High



No. of students Enrolled 43,526 (67%) 11,276 (17%)

10,369 (16%)

No. Of schools 79 284




No. of students Enrolled 31469 (49%) 22,186 (34%)

10,863 (17%)

No. Of Schools 56 -




No. of students Enrolled 34,322 (46%) 27,515 (37%)

12,287 (17%)

No. Of Schools 315 67


Source: Education Profile, 1980:6) & Digest of Education Statistics, 2000-2001

For instance, in 1980 during the PNC era, the fact that 54% of students in both SDPS and community schools were less job-competitive than their counterparts in the elite and general secondary schools, indicated that they experienced some degree of marginalization.

Placement in General Secondary Education
At any rate, the early selection process and the stratified high school system favour high achievers and work to the disadvantage of those students who are placed at the lower end of the secondary education spectrum. In Table 1, in 1980, 39,802 (54%) students were not placed in a general secondary school, in 1983-84, the figure was 33,049 (51%), and in 2000-2001, only 21,645 (33%) students were deprived of this type of secondary school admission. In the PNC era, more than half of secondary school students were not in the classrooms of a general secondary school. These statistics show that, today, traditional secondary school student participation rates increased over the last decade, suggesting that more secondary school students have the potential to be more job-competitive. Over the last decade, the PPP/C has dramatically reduced student numbers by more than 50% in the SDPS and have enabled more students to experience a general secondary education.

Table 2: Availability & Student Entry at SSEE

Period 1966-67-1975-76 1975-76 1983-84


No. students in the 10 -12 age group 42,037 (Average) 47,697 N/A


No. Entered SSEE Exam 13,805 (Average) 17,409 19,308 15,376

Source: Digest of Education Statistics, 1966/67-1975/76; 1983/84; & 2000-2001

Clearly, Table 2 shows a marked improvement in the percentage of students presenting themselves for the SSEE in 2000-2001. In 2000-2001, the increase was 55% compared to 36% in 1975-76, and an average of 41% in the 1966-67-75/76 period. While the PPP/C Government has brought more students into traditional secondary education, there still is a huge loss of talent through the SSEE.