Volume 16, Number 1 (2009)
When Choosing Might Mean Losing: A Mixed Method Study of Secondary School choice in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
This article argues that Trinidad and Tobago has historically operated a system of open enrolment. Open access to schools by families may be rooted in the conflict between Church and State over schooling. The system 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 operationalized by a system of rules for placement at eleven plus. Parents are required to list their choice of schools and depending upon the candidates' score in the eleven-plus examination, test takers receive one of these choices or are assigned to a school by the Ministry of Education. To study the system of secondary school choice in Trinidad and Tobago, information was gathered 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 on the construction of choice were also collected from focus group and individual laddering interivews with both parents and children at four school sites. The integrated findings suggest that the choice-making process is complex, fluid, and dynamic, with multiple markets and different consumer types. Families made decisions in which children and even outsiders had considerable voice. Making choices involved a dual process of valorization and demonization of schools, but a tendendy to reject some schools was predominant in many instances. The value placed on first choice "prestige" schools may be related to the consumer values of future academic success, safety of person, and assurance of stable personal development.
Keywords: Secondary Schools; School Choice; Entrance Examinations; Trinidad and Tobago