My niece Dariann, who’s the younger daughter of my brother, Daren, placed in the top 100 in the Secondary Entrance Assessment exam; and I can’t help but feel I’m partly to blame.
You see, Dariann has been an avid reader since she was eight years old and, despite suffering from this condition myself, I have done nothing to help her. It was two or three years ago I first realised, far from being a child who just read books and who would, like most Trinidadians, grow out of it by the age of ten, Dariann was in fact just as dedicated a reader as I was.
On that fateful day, she had gone out with her Aunty Kay and, as usual, my sister had thoughtlessly bought a new book for her. They came back to my mother’s home to wait for her father to pick her up and she immediately started reading the book. That was bad enough but, when Daren arrived and said, “Time to go home, Dariann,” she replied, “Yes, Daddy,” and, without taking her eyes off her book, got up and walked out to the car. Yet none of us did anything!
Of course, her parents have to accept most of the responsibility for this. It’s true they didn’t send Dariann to “lessons”, save for a few weeks before the exam, but they were the ones who continually bought new story books instead of land. In fact, they were spending so much money on books that rather than cutting this expenditure and cutting her tail instead, they got Dariann an e-reader—which, of course, only made her read more. But none of us ever thought there was any danger of her ranking in the SEA 100.
Still, we should have been aware of this problem. It wasn’t only that Dariann is an avid reader, but her favourite subject wasn’t even English language, but mathematics. I suspect that’s the fault of her mother, Cheryl, who works in banking, and her father who’s an assistant auditor and football referee and occasional bartender. So the child ended up doing well in both the English and maths components of the SEA. But I can assuage my guilt with the knowledge that she performed least well in creative writing.
This was part of the new School-Based Assessment introduced last year, and Dariann’s teacher gave her full marks because Dariann was the best story-teller in the class. Indeed, when she was just eight years old, Dariann and I wrote a story about a witch, alternating one sentence at a time. But the literary experts at the Education Ministry reduced her marks, just like the local literary critics do with her uncle’s novels. So, had it not been for that, Dariann might have placed so high that she would have met Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and, with the 7-1 drubbing Brazil got from Germany the day after Kamla announced she was going to the World Cup, I feel I may have saved my niece’s entire future.
Still, she’s not out of the forest yet. Dariann is an unassuming child, so she may never realise being bright provides no advantage in Trinidad and Tobago. If she was smart in the true Trini sense, she’d have been the President’s daughter, not Daren’s, and she certainly would not have had me for an uncle.
Still, it is always possible she will develop real Trini brains by the time she’s an adult and so, rather than relying on her intellect to be successful and happy, she will instead learn to cut grass for $2 million a field.