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At SEA with Covid

LAST THURSDAY, 18,000-odd 11-year-olds sat the Secondary Entrance Assessment, all hoping to pass for a “prestige school” which, in Trinidad, means one where the teachers are more worried about their students getting nine CXCs under their belt than their already having TEC Nines in their book-bags.

In sympathy with children whose educations may have ended before the Euros 2020 final even started, I began my own Senility Entrance Assessment exam last Friday, with the maths section of a Newsday practice test. Today I will wrestle with what we now call “language arts” because we’re too ashamed of how poorly we do “English”. I’ve shortened the questions considerably because SEA grammatical style is not particularly languaged-ly-artful.

Language Arts. Section I.

Task 1. Correct the six spelling mistakes: Simba sirveyed the bed below him. The new dog, which the humans affectionatly called “Chino,” was sleeping contently on it. Simba wanted to play! He swished his tale, wiggled and pounced on the creature. Chino howled and jumped! Simba felt satisfyed. The spelling mistakes are obvious, apart from “contently” for “contentedly”, which modern 11-year-olds will think isn’t a mistake at all, because they will think it refers to “content”, i.e., any stupid 15-second video they post on TikTok, but you have to look for the cultural/socioeconomic errors. Unless Simba & Chino are pets in a stoosh household, eg, what the firetruck are they doing on the bed? In Westmoorings, you expect the dogs to be allowed free roam of the house and the husband to be more or less permanently in the doghouse but, elsewhere, Trinidad dogs are outside in the rain. With one end of an old rope tied around their neck and the other to a mango tree valued more highly than them. And we know they’re not outside because, had they been, the examiners would have referred, not to “the bed” but to “the flowers bed”. Obviously any dog bred for fighting is very well-treated and sleeps in an air-conditioned kennel eating T-bone steak for every meal. Because his owner/promoter can never be sure it won’t be his last one.

Task 2. Correct the six punctuation and capitalisation errors: romano observed the tadpoles and fish darting between rocks in the pond As he stared at them in awe he heard a voice shout, “Boo” in his ear. In shock, he jumped, lost his balance and fell into the pond. His brother, Trevor, exclaimed, Got you!” There is a lot more wrong with poor Romano than not having his name capitalised, such as having a surname for a forename and not having a PS4 or any gaming platform at all – otherwise why would he be in awe of tadpoles and fish darting in a firetrucking pond? This is a little boy in Trinidad, not Sir David Attenborough on the BBC. Romano’s biggest problem, though, is clearly his brother, Trevor, who got the good first name and who has poor Romano in such an extended state of hyper-anxiety, he needs to watch tadpoles to calm down. The biggest correction Romano can make is to change his name to “Bad Dorg Does Bite!!!!” with all four exclamation marks not being mistakes. Maybe Trevor will be a little afraid of him then. If the new name doesn’t take, Romano’s best correction will be to NEVER stand near the edge of any precipice if Trevor is within shouting distance.

Task 3. Correct the six grammar errors: Black vultures are known as “corbeaux” at Trinidad. They are important to the environment and helps to keep it clean. Despite they reputation around being dirty, black vultures often clean itself by bathing in rivers and streams. Before the grammatically incorrect, we must deal with the politically incorrect, viz, why are the vultures being described as “black”? It is now racist to use the word “black” as a descriptive, following the penalising of the white European football club official who identified the only black player on the field by saying, “the black guy” instead of, say, “the third-tallest player on the team that is losing at the moment” or “the player nearest the goalpost who is not the goalie, no, wait, the player who is second-nearest… no, wait, third-nearest… no, wait…”.

There is also a distinct possibility of anti-Indian racism coming into play because the dirty black vultures clean themselves by bathing in rivers. Why not the sea? Why the river? To me, the imputation is clear that there must be some duck currying in a pot somewhere, ergo, the most correctest thing to do is to set all future SEA questions in villages in England, with rosy-cheeked blonde children doing all the heavy-social media-storm-avoiding-lifting in the exam questions.

We could even do the maths section with sums out of my old 1969 arithmetic textbooks, which required Trinidadian children to add up and subtract pounds, shillings and pence.

And then we could formally reverse Independence.

And maybe come out of it and into West Indian Federation next time.

Changes to the SEA have made it impossible to do, in a newspaper column, section two of the SEA, the “comprehension”, or to write what used to be “the essay” but is now, regrettably, “ELA — presumably English Language Arts — Writing”, subdivided into “Narratives vs Reports” and “The Writing Process”.

Which starts with something called “Prewriting”, further sub-divided into Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution, which sounds more like a Friday night in a club and a quarrel and she went home than a primary school essay.

That’s enough SEA to drown in.

BC Pires is a dunce with Newsday and, ergo, about to be appointed to the Cabinet

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