GSAT placement pain - Education minister promises transfers in 'obvious cases'
Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
A weekend has passed since students across the island received the results of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), but some, along with their parents, are still in anguish over the schools in which they have been placed.
While many parents might be concerned about the perceived quality of the schools to which their children are assigned, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has acknowledged that computer-automated placement sometimes creates other concerns that are "obvious cases for transfer".
One such case might be that of 12-year-old Jua-Lee Cunningham, who found out she would be moving from the Lluidas Vale Primary School in St Catherine to St Hugh's High School, some distance away in Kingston.
Speaking with The Gleaner at her school minutes after receiving her results on Friday, Cunningham was confused about her placement, wondering why, even though she had not picked St Hugh's, she was placed at the institution located several miles from her home.
"I wanted to go to St Jago or a school closer to where I am from, and I didn't choose this school, so I don't know," she said in bewilderment, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Managing to pass all of the subjects with grades over 85 per cent, Cunningham could not understand why she could not get into a school of her choice and said she had no idea where St Hugh's High School was.
Thwaites explained that situations like Cunningham's do occur as computers are responsible for placing 80 per cent of the students.
"There are a number of these instances ... [and] some of these are obvious cases for transfers, and I am happy to sanction that kind of transfer," Thwaites told The Gleaner yesterday.
He said parents who have similar grouses should first go to the school that they would want to transfer the child to. Then, if the school accepts the child, they should then go to the school to which the child was assigned for a release, and both the release and acceptance letters should be submitted to the regional office of the ministry for the process to be completed.
The minister sought to allay concerns about whether enough spaces would be available in secondary schools come September, following the Government's decision to stop placing students in private institutions.
Thwaites said that in the last school year, more than 3,000 new spaces were created, including the construction of several new buildings across the country.
"We created some 3,000 new spaces last year in various new buildings, and included in that, I think, were three new institutions or upgraded institutions," the minister said.
Registration and placement data from the ministry showed that 105 students were placed in private institutions last year, and last week, Thwaites said the country would save $15 million by discontinuing the practice.
The minister also explained that many of the 1,418 students who were absent from the March examinations would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Thwaites said a large number of the students who did not show up might have registered initially but are young enough to take the examination next year and were, therefore, pulled from this year's sitting by parents or teachers.
He said systems were in place to help those students who might have been absent because of illness or who were not prepared for the examinations.
"It all depends on their circumstances. Normally, they would be assessed and placed in the most appropriate institution, with the necessary facilities," Thwaites said.