GSAT depression! - Pressure to get into ‘name-brand’ schools leaves several children depressed
News that the stressful Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is to be scrapped is likely to get strong support from parents as a new study shows that it is sending scores of children into depression.
The education ministry has announced that by 2019 the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) will be the exit examination for primary-level education, which will replace the GSAT, and for university professor Garth Lipps, the change cannot come fast enough.
Lipps has found that Jamaican children face a level of stress going into GSAT as they strive to get into one of the 'name-brand' schools, that it takes a severe mental toll on them.
Under the PEP, the stress should be less as this is not being designed as a programme/curriculum, but rather, a summative and continuous assessment of students to be placed in secondary schools based on where they live.
Lipps, who is now putting together findings from a study done between 2015 and 2016 looking at the impact of GSAT on pupils in Jamaica and comparing this to examinations in Barbados and Colombia, has found that one of end-of-school exams has left the Jamaican children depressed.
According to Lipps, the prevalence of depression among children in Jamaica is higher when compared to the two countries, and much of this is related to the GSAT pressure.
"It is more pressure here than it is elsewhere. It's less pressure in Barbados because the differences in schools are not that great. Yes, they have one or two that's better than the other but it's not such a sharp contrast as it is in Jamaica.
"There is some pressure in Colombia though, but it is still not as much. The school system here (Jamaica) is organised to put a lot of pressure on the students," Lipps told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We wanted to follow the kids as they go through the full year. Informally, what we saw was depression peaking just before GSAT and then dropping afterwards," added Lipps, who is the associate dean for teaching and learning in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and professor of applied psychology.
He argued that tremendous pressure is placed on students from the early-childhood level, and argued that this can be blamed on the streaming that takes place from the primary to the secondary level.
"There's this twin tracking (streaming) that exists in Jamaica - tracking into schools and tracking within the schools, and that starts at the very beginning of education.
"That starts when you go either into a basic school or kindergarten, and if you go to kindergarten, you are more likely to go to prep (preparatory) school, and if you go to a prep school, you are more likely to go to a traditional high school, and that ultimately determines your life chances in Jamaica," said Lipps.
He noted that this trend of depression sometimes follows students throughout the secondary level, based on findings that emerged from an assessment he did in 2009 looking at fourth-form students in Jamaica, The Bahamas, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
"The kids who are in an upgraded secondary school (in Jamaica) are tremendously depressed. Most times the inexperienced teachers get assigned to teach the lowest stream kids, and so you end up with a group of kids who move through the educational system at the bottom of the chart and they know it. You can see the despondence on their faces," Lipps told The Sunday Gleaner.
For this reason, Lipps is urging education policymakers to make greater efforts to spread resources to all institutions.