Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Another GSAT sleight of hand

Published:Wednesday | June 10, 2015 | 12:00 AMColin Steer, Contributor
Ronald Thwaites
Colin Steer

Some things in the published comments attributed to Education Minister Ronald Thwaites up to Tuesday, June 9, regarding plans to amend how and where students are placed based on this year's Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), are not adding up.

The major rationale for the planned shift is that the minister wanted to have students placed closer to where they reside "to cut down on travel time and the gathering of students at bus parks", which he said, encouraged idleness and other negative behaviour.

What percentage of the thousands of students who traverse the bus parks and various transportation centres across the island have ever been involved in any antisocial behaviour to warrant this sudden shift in placement policy?

The public has since been told that only 15 per cent of GSAT cohorts would be affected by the change. Does that apply to students across the island or primarily in Kingston and St Andrew?

The Ministry of Education should explain its definition of "closer" in terms of mileage and at the same time release the results of studies that show the geographic zones and boundaries from which students currently come. The ministry should then show the link between the incidence of violence and antisocial behaviour in the bus parks and the children who routinely use these facilities. And what do we do when the antisocial behaviour is committed in the schoolyard or outside the gates by those who live nearby? Restrict them to their verandas, if they have any?



Educator R. Howard Thompson has been campaigning for years for zoning, arguing that there is no good reason why an A+ student should be allowed to pass several other 'good' schools to go to one hundreds of kilometres away. He contends that a better assessment of what the teachers are capable of doing is to allow them to take "whosoever will "and then work with them rather than boasting about top performance after having got the best students in the first instance.

Under the stated new policy, will a student who scored an average of 65 per cent and who lives a stone's throw from Ardenne, Immaculate or Campion be placed in any of these schools? That would upend long-standing placement criteria. For, at present, the three schools named tend to get mostly students with averages above 90 per cent. How far will the ministry go in its new order?

Let's consider the Corporate Area again. Most of the preferred high schools are in largely middle-class or near to upper middle-class neighbourhoods. Among them are Immaculate, Campion, Calabar, Jamaica College, Ardenne, Queen's and Meadowbrook. Of course, there are pockets of poverty in proximity and they do receive a mixture of students coming from different areas. Should students from Tivoli Gardens, Charles Street, Beeston Street and Oxford Street in downtown Kingston be restricted from attending Ardenne, Calabar, JC or Immaculate even if the parents will sacrifice for them to travel the distance, or should they be corralled into Charlie Smith, Trench Town and Denham Town high schools?

I raise this question not from some sneering middle-class sense of superiority. Far from it. But not all schools are equal. They don't have the same level of physical and human resources. Clearly, that is where the fix lies. Improve the 'less-desired' schools, yes, but we are not going to achieve that result by frustrating students, parents and teachers. In effect, what will most likely continue to be reinforced in the new arrangement is greater social exclusivity based on relative affluence.

We have the proverbial chicken and egg. Which comes first? Send 'good' students to 'no-name' schools and watch them improve, or fix the schools and attract 'better' students? I say the latter.

Then there is the matter of commuting parents who may not have any real problem dropping off their children at a school near to where they work, even if they live relatively far away. Why should they be denied the option of sending their children to Wolmer's, St George's, Alpha or Kingston College? I am sure Mr Thwaites can remember when he was a coffee baron transporting his offspring from the hills of rural St Andrew to the Liguanea Plains to be educated. They bypassed many schools along the way. He worked downtown.

I suspect that the real reason for the proposed shift in policy has not been projected into the public domain. It will, however, slip out, sooner rather than later.

- Colin Steer is a journalist. Email feedback to