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Carolyn Cooper | Testing nerves on TVJ’s Schools’ Challenge Quiz

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM

I still feel it for those poor students on TVJ's Junior Schools' Challenge Quiz who gave the wrong answer to that easy question, "In which Caribbean country did reggae originate?" One team said Trinidad and Tobago. The other countered with Barbados.

Since then, there has been quite a social-media storm about the issue. It's as if the children committed a major crime. Our sense of national pride seems to be at stake. How could Jamaican children not know that reggae originated on Jamrock? Suppose the contestants had been asked, "In which Caribbean country was Usain Bolt born?" Is it conceivable that they could possibly have not said "Jamaica?" Do they know that Jamaica is in the Caribbean?

Whose fault is it that the children didn't give the right answer? They are not to blame. It's the Ministry of Education that has let them down. Jamaican culture should be on the primary school curriculum. And it must be a compulsory subject.

All the same, I have a feeling that if the children hadn't been under pressure on a quiz show, they might have come up with the right answer. These kinds of media shows are not really about knowledge. They actually test how well children can perform in extremely stressful circumstances. And in the case of TVJ's Junior Schools' Challenge Quiz, it's also about branding the television station. Not a minor matter!




According to the rules of the quiz, teams have 10 seconds in which to answer questions in the first round. That's not a lot of time for reflection. In the second round of the show, the pressure really begins to build up. There's a face-off between only two contestants. The other members of each team must remain silent. Otherwise, points will be deducted for answering out of turn.

The questions in this section are based on the syllabus for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT): mathematics, English language, science and social studies. Yes, the syllabus for the Test. Not for six years' cumulative learning in primary school! It seems as if the whole point of going to school is preparing for the Big Test. It's not about the pleasures of learning.

The everyday cramming to do well at GSAT and get into a 'good' high school is now perversely turned into a competition between schools! This is a very cruel game. Stress is compounded like interest on a loan. And the ultimate winners of this game of chance are the children who start off with a lot of social capital.

I suppose the primary and prep schools that win the junior challenge quiz are generally seen as 'good' prospects for getting students into desirable high schools. And, of course, the high schools that win the senior competition are the premier schools to which GSAT students aspire. Branding, again!

At the top of the Schools' Challenge Quiz pyramid is Kingston College. They've won 11 times. Ardenne High is next, winning six times. Wolmer's Boys, Calabar and Munro College tie for third place, winning five times. Glenmuir and St Jago follow, both winning four times. There are many schools that have never won. Does this mean they're not 'good' schools?




Schools' Challenge Quiz is stressful enough at the senior level. It's even more challenging for GSAT students. Sadly, many of them are accustomed to living with the constant pressure at school and home to pass tests. Some are even dying from it, committing suicide when they fail. Do we really want to promote a 10-second academic culture in which we give young students hardly any time to answer a question? And call it edutainment?

The PR for TVJ's Junior Schools' Challenge Quiz is rather optimistic: "There is a heavy emphasis on local and regional affairs as the quiz seeks to engender a spirit of nationalism and regionalism among our youngsters." Regionalism certainly beat nationalism in the answer to that reggae question.

Then the recommended materials that students should use to prepare for the quiz come from an interesting range of sources. According to the Rule Book, these include "TVJ News/Programmes/Sports".

Apparently, CVM, CTV, PBCJ and other local stations can't provide any useful information for contestants! But if students watched not just TVJ's 'Entertainment Report', but also CVM's 'On Stage', they might have had a better chance of remembering that reggae originated in Jamaica.

The final round of TVJ's Junior Schools' Challenge Quiz is the most frenzied. The first team to press the buzzer is allowed to answer the question. In five seconds! And teams win two points for each right answer and lose two for each wrong one. GSAT again! Low scores? No chance of winning that coveted place in a 'good' high school.

Cynics will say, "That's life. Let the children learn early that it's all about competing for scarce resources." But why can't all our high schools be 'good'? Shouldn't every single Jamaican child get the opportunity to be educated in circumstances that foster learning? Must we passively accept the inequitable status quo?

These are not questions we can answer in five or 10 seconds. They demand sustained introspection about the kind of society we want Jamaica to be. And that's far more challenging than a tricky question on a quiz show.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to and