Abolishing GSAT makes sense

Friday, June 22, 2012    

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THE declaration by Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites that the much berated Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is to be abolished is, we are sure, music to the ears of many parents.

Minister Thwaites, in his contribution to the 2012/13 Sectoral Debate this week, expressed exasperation at the fact that for 14 years the GSAT exam has been stirring fear and trauma in parents and children alike. He said the exam robs children of much extracurricular life and cram their head with excess material they will never use.

As Minister Thwaites spoke, we remembered the painful letter to the editor of the Observer from 11-year-old grade six student Roshaun Robinson, published in March this year.

Roshaun, who loves to read, told us that she was exploring Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and had tuned in to the harsh realities of the enslavement of Africans in the Americas via the modern classic, Book of Negroes, written by Canadian Mr Lawrence Hill.

However, she said that since September last year she was not able to indulge her love of reading because of the pressure of preparing for the GSAT.

She is a prize-winning essay writer but was unable to fully indulge what should surely be a highly recommended pastime because of the intense GSAT preparations.

According to Roshaun, in preparation for the exam, her school week was extended from five days to six, and on Sundays she went to church and did additional homework and study.

“Some of my schoolmates have it even harder because after leaving extra lessons at school, their parents take them to other teachers for extra, extra lessons. So some children get home only at night and then they have to do homework for classes the next day. Is there something wrong with a system like this? I think so,” she wrote.

That, we insist, is unreasonable pressure on a child. Therefore, we are heartened by Minister Thwaites' acknowledgement that he and his team at the education ministry have listened to the concerns of parents and the wider public and have taken steps to address them.

The ministry, he said, will, in due course, announce a new examination which emphasises aptitude and skills with appropriate age-related content.

That, we believe, makes eminent sense and gives weight to our position that the country need not have engaged consultants to analyse the curriculum and method of testing for the GSAT.

We have long held that high school placements should be determined by continuous assessment rather than the student's ability to recall information in one exam.

For there are many students who do well throughout their years in primary and prep schools, but freeze on sitting the GSAT as the enormous pressure on them to perform scares the daylights out of them.

We acknowledge that part of the reason for the pressure on students is what we call the big school mentality, which sees parents and teachers pushing for the 90-plus per cent marks that will get their charges into the most respected traditional high schools.

It will take a while to change this mindset. But that change will not come unless there is a serious effort to improve the standard of the schools that parents regard as less than desirable for their children. That is where the real solution lies.





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