Fri | Aug 17, 2018

GSAT: the benefits of failure

Published:Sunday | June 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Sheryl Robinson, mother of 10-year-old Elizabeth Robinson, was elated as she and other family members in Portmore Pines spoke openly on the phone about her daughter's recent GSAT passes.
Sandra Palmer
Akeliah Haffenden of Grove Town Primary in south Manchester goes through a range of emotions as guidance counsellor Debbie Hutchinson reads out the four hundreds and 11/12 she scored in GSAT.

The results of the 2015 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) were published on June 17 after three months of anxiety. The scores and the associated school assignments either brought joy and gladness or disappointment and sadness to students, teachers and parents.

Social media went into overdrive. Parents and well-wishers broadcast the good news of the sons, daughters, nieces sand nephews who aced the test and were on their way to 'good' schools come September. Traditional media, mainly print, also celebrated these achievements and showcased top achievers for whom GSAT results meant 'Great Student Aced Test'.

Although I am very happy for the high achievers, I want to focus our attention on those for whom GSAT results meant failure. Of the 38,662 students who sat the test, 27 per cent did not get into their schools of choice. This includes non-traditional high schools, technical schools, primary and junior high schools, and special schools.

Amid all the accolades and celebrations for the star performers, it would be sad if we missed this great teachable moment on failure. Years of research have taught me that there is much more to be learnt from failure than from success.

Bill Gates reminded us that success is a lousy teacher as it seduces smart people into faulty reasoning. It is a fact that GSAT grades do not predict success in life or in higher education. I can speak to this first-hand as I failed the Common Entrance Examination (now replaced by GSAT) on my first attempt at age 11.

Excerpt from On Seraph Wings: Memoirs of a Country Girl

"At Coley's Mountain Primary School, I thought I was brilliant. Well, so they all said! I had no difficulty with my schoolwork and everyone expected me to pass the Common Entrance Examination at the first attempt. My teachers even expected me to get a Government Scholarship.

But on that fateful, or should I say regrettable, Saturday mid-morning when the Common Entrance results came out in The Gleaner, I was in church. When the buzz started that the results were out, I felt a slight level of anxiety, but nothing nerve-wrenching. I heard that Lee had passed, but heard nothing about me. Could I have failed? Was this a mistake? If I had failed my Common Entrance, then my life was surely over.

I searched. My name was not in the Gleaner, and no matter how many times, or how carefully or frantically I combed the fine print amidst the continuous flow of tears - no Sandra Marie Palmer was to be found. I had failed!

That was my first real taste of disappointment. Little did I know there would be many more ahead.

My best friend, Lee, had passed for Bishop Gibson High in Mandeville, and that made it all even worse. Lee was my friend from as far back as my memory can go. We played jacks, spoke about the future, went to church and sometimes to the library together. She lived next door and we visited each other's homes regularly.

... I wanted to hug her and say congratulations like everyone else, but I couldn't. I could not be happy for her, at least not at that time. I was trying to cope with my disappointment and the feeling of shame and embarrassment I had caused my school and my parents. The principal of Coley's Mountain Primary had tried to comfort us into believing that the Ministry of Education or The Gleaner had made a mistake. He was sure that I had passed. After waiting for days and weeks and realising I would not be getting a letter from the ministry, as Principal Sanderson had promised, Mama transferred my two brothers, Steve and Gairey, and [me] to Nazareth All-Age School. ... Mama knew best; she always did."


Success from failure


This experience of failing shaped my life forever. I credit my subsequent success and everything I have accomplished in life to having failed.

1. I made an agreement with myself to never find myself in such a position again.

2. I purposed to find out what was required to succeed and I did everything possible.

3. I became one of the most competitive students.

4. My focus was not only getting a high grade, but ensuring no one got a higher grade than I did.

5. My level of motivation to do well academically was exceptionally high.

6. Passing on the second attempt meant I was a more mature student among my peers going into high school and beyond. This had several advantages.

7. Not only was I a student leader, but I placed first in most of my classes from first to fifth form.

8. I was captain of my Schools' Challenge Quiz Team at Bishop Gibson High School.

9. I was deputy head girl (still think I should have been head girl).

10. I was valedictorian of the graduating class.

I share this because I want to make it clear that you have not messed up your life because you did not get the grade that you wanted and did not get into the school of your choice. In life, everything happens for a reason. I am not here celebrating 'failure' but celebrating the lessons that can be learnt and how we move forward from failure.


Get ready for round two


So, my friends in the 27%, I feel your pain, but it's time to dry those tears, wash your face, put a smile on and say to life, "Bring it on! I am ready for round two'. Bloom where you are planted. I have seen the most beautiful flowers growing out of cracks in solid concrete. I have seen white lilies growing out of mud in the gutter. This sad experience is just a blip on the monitor of life.

The danger of not teaching the real lessons from failure is that we run the risk of our children feeling that they are worthless and are failures. Failing does not make you a failure.

Review what could have been done better. Was it inadequate preparation? Lack of resources? Lack of motivation? Whatever the reason, it is best to identify it and come up with a plan to address it going forward. Everything that happens to us in life is to teach us something. If we fail to learn the lesson that life is trying to teach us, we will have to repeat the class. Use your pass/experience for learning and development. After assessment, do not dwell on what did not go well. Take the learning and move on. There is a big, wide world waiting for you. Spend most of your time looking ahead through the windscreen of life and less time worrying about what didn't work out, which is looking through the rear-view mirror of life.

Students develop and bloom at different rates and at different stages. Parents and teachers need to do their part by encouraging and supporting these students. Never put them down or compare them with others. The words we speak over their lives can become self-fulfilling prophesies. There is nothing to be gained by trying to shame or curse a child into better performance. It is unkind, uncaring and unwise.

As parents and teachers, we wield a lot of influence over our children and our words can cut them like a knife. Be careful with your tongue. Speak blessing and life over them. Psychologists say that how we feel about ourselves is to a great extent linked to what we believe those we love and respect think about us. Words are powerful.

- Dr Sandra Palmer is a motivational speaker, author and educator.

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