Anastasia Cunningham, Senior Gleaner Writer
As tears of joy and disappointment flowed after yesterday's release of the 2011 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) results, counsellors urged parents and children to remember that success or failure in life is not determined in a day.
Counsellors with whom The Gleaner spoke yesterday said students should recognise that it is not the school they attend or social status that will determine their future as they must decide for themselves the paths their lives will take.
"Einstein failed maths so many times before he was able to succeed in school and he has created formulas now that baffle the greatest scientists," said Dr Grace Kelly, president of the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors. "Many did not get the start they wanted but have become a success because they were determined. They never gave up."
Each year, following the publication of the GSAT results, hundreds of disappointed students often break down in tears, become depressed, or even attempt and sometimes commit suicide because they did not get to go to the school they wanted.
Pressure from parents often worsens the situation as the children are at times threatened that they had "better pass for a good school, or else!".
"This is the time for parents to express their support, affirm the child, 'Even though you have not got the school of your choice, you are still valuable and I still love you as if you have gone to another school. You are the important person.'
Affirm the child for who he or she is in the midst of what's going on," advised Dr Donovan Thomas, founder of Choose Life International, a faith-based organisation that focuses on suicide prevention and which has been counselling teens for more than 25 years.
Thomas advised parents who have expressed "misplaced priorities" to apologise and assure their children that they would work with them to become the best.
"It is time to use the opportunity to say, 'I accept that I made an error in saying to you don't come home if you don't get a good school', to say, 'My child, I'm sorry I ever said that to you'," he said.
To the students, he advised: "Go to that school and bloom. Do your very best, excel."
Kelly believes disappointments come with unrealistic expectations.
"Parents need to accept their children for who they are and work with their limitations. Children, on the other hand, need to always do their best, know what they are good at, and focus on that. Never give up, never feel like a failure. There is always hope. If you find something you love and have the talent for it, stick to it. And parents, support them in that. Don't expect them to be something they are not," she said.
Sometimes children who get extraordinary results and are placed in top high schools also feel overwhelmed from both a social and economic standpoint. Both Thomas and Kelly advise them to accept that they got there because of their capability, that they deserve to be there, that they will achieve, and should focus on the real reason they are there.
"Don't be ashamed to ask for help," advised Kelly. "There are several programmes and persons of good repute who will help."
Thomas said students should not feel like they are a "second-class member. Prove your worth and work hard to achieve because you can become anything you want to be. Your main purpose is to get the best education, so never lose focus on that fact."
Do your best
He advised parents not to try to match up to other parents, but to just do their best.
The experts accept that there will be cases where both parent and child may need professional help, and they advise them to seek help, without hesitation. Especially, they say, if the child displays severe depression, suicidal tendencies, or noticeable changes in behavioural pattern.
"How detailed is their plan to commit suicide, the intensity of their intention to die, how near is the method that they may choose, and what is the support system they have to rely on are important factors in getting immediate help," said Thomas.
"Talk with them, love them, be open and honest with them. And get help if you need to," Kelly stated.
Better results this year, says ministry
The Ministry of Education is reporting that performances in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) have improved.
Education Minister Andrew Holness said yesterday, ahead of a press conference scheduled for today, that the students have done better than last year.
Holness also indicated that the release of the results was a fairly smooth process, despite concerns being raised about the placement of some students in upgraded high schools.