When choosing might mean losing: The construction of secondary school choice in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago



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School of Education, UWI, St. Augustine


Trinidad and Tobago has historically operated a system of open enrolment for all schools. This open access to schools by families is a feature rooted in the historical conflict between Church and State over schooling. Open enrolment is founded on the principle of the right of parents to choose schools for their children, first argued in the 18th century by the Church, and now included as a provision in the Trinidad and Tobago Republican Constitution. Choice of secondary school is embedded in the rules of operation for the placement system at eleven-plus, with parents required to list four or six choices. Depending upon the candidates' score in the examination, they receive one of their choices or are assigned by the Ministry of Education. To study the system of school choice in Trinidad and Tobago, information was collected from the registration database of 11 eleven-plus examinations spanning the period 1995-2005. Student choices were analysed along with the demographic and geographic data. In the mixed method research design, data were also collected from parents and children from four schools across the country. The data indicate that the choice-making process is complex, fluid, and dynamic, with multiple markets and different consumer types. Families made decisions with children also having a say. Choice making involved a dual process of valorization and demonization of schools, with a tendency to more often reject new sector government schools. The value placed on first choice "prestige" schools was related to consumer values of safety and security. Parents valued a school if it could shepherd their beloved offspring through life's rocky courses


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School choice, Secondary schools, Entrance examinations, Trinidad and Tobago