Wed | Oct 28, 2020

Verona Antoine-Smith | CSEC 2020 students … step into your greatness!

Published:Saturday | November 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMVerona Antoine-Smith/Guest Columnist

In 2015, 37,575 grade six students sat the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). During the registration process, they identified five high schools in hopes of matriculating into one of them. Each school was complemented with a rationale for selection.

Data from the Ministry of Education showed that the most commonly cited rationale was a school’s reputation of high academic standards. That year, 73 per cent of the cohort was placed in a school of choice.

All things being equal, these students are now in fifth form, completing the final phase of the high school curriculum, which culminates with the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations in May 2020. Surely, they will endeavour to accomplish the high achievements that attracted them to their schools. But can they do it?


According to then minister of education, Ronald Thwaites, the cohort’s results indicated a higher overall passing average than previous cohorts, despite a three per cent reduction in mathematics. One might therefore infer that their CSEC results will also be better than previous cohorts. However, there are several factors that impact learning and student success besides their intake level. So as they finalise their exam registration, they must be encouraged to guard against anything that impedes the learning process; put another way, “don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees”. Figuratively, the forest signifies their academic goals and the trees symbolize factors which can affect the learning process.


The proverb, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” supports the view that students must have pockets of time within which to de-stress from hefty academic responsibilities. Relaxation is as important to learning as is working hard but it must never become the order of the day, as it leads to complacency.

Conversely, too much stress can be counterproductive and time lost can never be regained, therefore, study and leisure times, inclusive of extracurricular activities, must be monitored by parents to ensure a proper balance.


Some of the most enduring friendships were formed in high school. Friends help to create harmony in the learning environment which can be hostile at times. However, not all friendships yield positive behaviours and anything that adversely affects student discipline will ultimately interfere with their academic performance. Therefore, students must assess their associations and sever ties that compromise their chances of staying in school and achieving their academic goals.


Teachers are among the most important factors in the learning process and student success. Unfortunately, sometimes they are met with procrastination from students who allow themselves to become preoccupied with teacher-likeability rather than their pedagogic skills and effectiveness. Too often, expressions such as “mi nuh like harr” or “im too strict” are echoed as the primary reason for their underperformance. However, research suggests that any correlation between teacher-likeability and student performance is insignificant. Students must, therefore, focus on achieving their academic objectives and put their perceptions of their teachers on the back burner.

Students do not like to be reprimanded. However, unpreparedness and failure to submit assignments or school-based assessments (SBAs) will warrant concern and reprimand. The latter will possibly draw out that unwelcomed ‘teacher voice’ but students need to understand that teachers are preparing them to excel in their exams and in life beyond the classroom.

Like teachers, students must play an active role in their learning; one such responsibility is completing their SBAs. They must recognise that an SBA is the first graded component of the respective CSEC exam. If they fail to submit it, they will automatically fail the respective subject. So teachers who constantly request SBAs or labs should not be perceived as nagging but instead as concerned.

Case in point: A strict teacher entered a staffroom looking rather exhausted. She explained that some students refused to do the graded homework and she insisted it must be done. She ended up using her lunchtime to supervise them.

When ridiculed about punishing herself, she responded with Chronixx’s lyrics, “Midweet fi di love mi nuhdweet fi di likes”.


Reflection has its merits but sometimes it casts up the painful realization of one’s existence. Students are each unique and their intellectual abilities vary significantly. Their socio-economic backgrounds, family structure and lifestyle add to that diversity. Notwithstanding, they are all placed into identical learning environments and expected to strive similarly. But the reality is, some of them face unspeakable difficulties in their family lives, which in turn can cripple the learning process when no social intervention is in place.

Self-doubt resulting from repeated failures can also cripple the learning process. One sign of discouragement is the surrender phrase, “mi cyan baddayaah.” However, dropping a subject is not an option at this stage so students who are struggling academically must decide to pull out all the stops. And anything in conflict with the learning process must be addressed.

Of course, teachers will employ different strategies to assist but sometimes the root cause of underperformance is beyond the realm of the classroom. Students in distress are therefore encouraged to seek help via their school’s guidance and counselling departments. All discussions are confidential.


Indeed, there are several factors that can either enhance or impede the learning process. However, you are the same students from the outstanding cohort of GSAT 2015. If you did it then, you can do it again. And for you who did not get your dream school, that’s no excuse to give up on your dreams.

This week when you’ve completed the exam registration process, tell yourself, “I’m registered for success”. Back up your words with hard work, a positive attitude, the support of your teachers, family and friends and lastly, God’s guidance. Whatever the circumstances, don’t lose sight of your academic goals.

Of course it’s not easy but fortunately, “it’s not how you start that’s important but how well you finish.” So CSEC 2020 students … . Step into your greatness!

Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher in a public secondary school. She holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. Email feedback to and