Combating Pre-GSAT Disorder —Part 2

Singh Williams

Friday, August 25, 2017

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As the last set of students prepare to sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in 2018, parents must acknowledge and guard against GSAT Disorder — consciously or subconsciously measuring their child's value based on a school placement.

Last week (Wednesday, August 16, 2017), we discussed the number one cause for the pressure built along the process of getting to the GSAT results; that is, a perceived lack of quality secondary schools.

This week, we explore some of the consequences of physiological over-arousal, tension and somatic symptoms, along with worry, dread, and fear of failure, which are symptoms of GSAT Disorder.

Cause 2

Many guardians and caregivers are guilty of forcing children to believe that they have to pass for a certain school to be considered successful or because that is the school the parent attended. Whether you mean to contribute added pressure or not, a child's need to please their parents or caregivers can cause them to become overly anxious.

International figures show that in Singapore last year there were 27 suicides among 10- to 19-year-olds — a 15-year high. Young suicides, in the 10-to-19-years age group, have also been on the rise elsewhere; in Britain, 201 young people committed suicide in 2014, up from 179 in 2013.

While in Jamaica we may not have these numbers, we do have issues with childhood depression which need to be addressed. Counsellors are concerned that parents sometimes do not realise that by harping on grades, young children's sense of self-worth ends up being defined by how well they do in school. Even the 'reminder' that if the child does not do well in school, he could end up with a poor job in the future or go to a “bad” high school, can add pressure. The mental health of your child is not to be taken lightly.

Prescription 2 —

School placement is not about measuring value. Period. Stop insinuating this. We have to stop telling our children that they have to pass this exam to get into a good school; but rather, to pass this exam to ascertain whether or not they are truly grasping the subject content so that educators can better determine how to support them.

To support the change in how we speak and think about the exam, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has taken steps to develop a new exam — the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). This is a summative examination of the National Standards Curriculum, which will focus on higher- order thinking, performance tasks and ability testing.

My recommendation to parents and teachers of the 2019 cohort of students, who will take the inaugural exam, is to focus on grasping concepts and ensuring children aren't just engaging in rote memorisation. This time around, children will actually have to demonstrate what they know over a period of time, which means that parents and guardians must begin to support the learning journey in a deeper, more meaningful way.

An easy way to reinforce learning for your child, as simple as it sounds, is to ask questions about what they are learning and, most importantly, “the why”.

In our society we will find parents who are unable to help with homework for one reason or the other; however, “thinking together” is a meaningful way to develop analytical reading and quantitative reasoning — skills our children will need to develop the learned content. Thinking together is the use of language for reasoning together to improve their individual learning and understanding of both literary and mathematics problems.

Some guiding questions for parents/guardians include:

• What did you learn today?

• Do you think this can be used in the real world? If so, why or why not?

• What kind of problems can we solve with this knowledge?

• What do you think the teacher could have done to help you understand it better?

• How can I help you understand?

• What other solutions do you have to solve this problem? Are there other ways?

Oftentimes, we as parents or guardians don't really need to understand the content. What needs to be done is ensure that our children understand it. If the child is able to explain it to you and develop language skills while doing so, then you would have learned new knowledge while helping them to concretise their learning.


The diagnoses conclude that parents and guardians of students taking grade six assessments need to avoid turning the Pre-GSAT Disorder into the PEP disease. Exercise restraint in getting caught up in school placement. Relax your mind and focus on investing the learning processes of your child.

Brittany Singh Williams is the first female curator of the Global Shapers Kingston Hub; the executive director of CB Facey Foundation, the charitable arm of PanJam Investments Limited; and a senior advisor in the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information. Send comments to the Observer or

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