The GSAT bogey again

Published: Thursday | July 16, 2009

Keith Noel, Contributor


There is no intrinsic problem with the education system where the GSAT examinations are concerned. The issue is the placement of students based on their performance in the exams. Gaining placement in some schools is seen as more desirable than in others. This is the whole problem.

'Elite' schools

There is a reason why we see some schools as superior to others. In the early days of the [then scholarship] examination, there were a few 'elite' schools which provided an excellent education to their students. When children attained places at a high school, they saw themselves as having the potential to become a leader in the society: be it doctor, lawyer, engineer. During this period, the vast majority of the population of these high schools was the children of the well-to-do who could pay their way. What the system did then, was to make the young scholarship-winners further believe that their success had paved a way for them to join the upper classes.

The road ahead

For the rest, the road ahead was marked with struggle and only the brightest and most ambitious would still 'make it'. A few would move on to institutions like the Mico and train as teachers, and from there some would move on to become civil servants, politicians or attain even higher education and train as lawyers or other respected professionals.

In the 1960s, under Edwin Allen, a new approach began to take shape where the education of the masses was concerned. This continued under successive administrations. By the 1970s a number of secondary schools were built and these provided greater opportunity for some of the population.

One of the tragedies was that, because these schools were built to facilitate the poor, and were populated by the poor, people - even some of those who worked in them - assumed their inferiority. I remember when I was teaching at Haile Selassie Secondary, where we had a fairly good staff, joining the celebrations when one of my better students got a transfer to Jamaica College.

The present situation is that the syllabus followed by all schools is the same, the salary scale of all teachers is the same and the newly upgraded high schools are for the most part as well - and in some cases better-equipped.

But we still believe that the traditional high schools are 'better'. So children are motivated to study hard for the GSAT examination because, if they do well, they will 'get' the school of their choice. Students, as a whole, buckle down to serious work in the exam year, while parents spend more time with them, and spend more money on additional readers, etc. There is a peak in academic development at this point that is never again attained.


That sounds good. But the distaff side is that some are pushed too hard. Some feel as if they are failures if they do not get the school of their choice. A few even get suicidal. But the blame for this rests partly on those parents who refuse to acknowledge that schools that are not 'first choice' provide excellent educational opportunities. The blame also lies heavily on the media who, despite knowing better, feed the belief that those high schools who get the best academic results at CXC level are the best schools (ignoring the fact that it is self-fulfilling in that they are 'first choice' schools and so get the more academically gifted youngsters).

Clamouring for gifted students

The blame also lies on those principals of the newer high schools who keep clamouring for those gifted students to be sent to their schools as well. In doing so, they devalue themselves by distracting our attention from the fact that some of them have developed best practices which have worked wonders with youngsters who entered their institutions as low-achievers. Something some of the 'first choice' schools would not have a clue about!

So let's not start 'fixing' something that ain't broken!

Keith Noel is an educator. Feedback may be sent to