IT was hard to tell who was more anxious on day one of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) yesterday — the students, or their parents and teachers.
On a visit to some Corporate Area schools before the start of the exam, the Jamaica Observer found that some parents had accompanied their children to as far as the classroom door, offering last-minute prayers, words of advice, and encouragement. Teachers, who also prayed, reported keeping their "fingers crossed and hoping for the best".
More than 43,000 grade six students across the island are sitting the two-day high-school entrance examination, which tests their competence in language arts, mathematics, integrated science, social studies, and communication tasks.
Since its inception in 1999 the test has been consistently criticised for being too demanding on children, and its selection process has been said to be unfair since it has no pass mark and favours zoning.
Nonetheless, yesterday, parents and educators expressed confidence that their children and students would ace the exam.
"Last night I spoke to my daughter, we prayed, and based on the discussion we had I am confident that she will do well," parent Leroy Burton told the Observer early yesterday morning.
The father was one of several parents who stood on the Alpha Primary School grounds on South Camp Road in Kingston and watched anxiously as their children prepared to file into the exam rooms.
"We are confident that the students will do well," said Sheldon Richards, Principal of Clan Clarthy Primary, who added that administratively things had been smooth.
Similar comments were made at Melrose Primary and Praise Tabernacle Christian Academy.
"I have all confidence that she will do well; it is just for her to focus," said Claudette Bedward, a parent who, along with several others, watched as her daughter queued up to enter the examination room.
At Praise Tabernacle Christian Academy, Marvin Elliot, a teacher, said school leaders offered special prayers for the students before the start of the exams.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said it was encouraged by the improved organisation that was observed at several schools yesterday.
"We are encouraged by what we saw at the schools. The students are in high spirits, and it appears there has been an improvement; the level of organisation at schools is better when compared to last year," said Grace McLean, chief education officer.
She attributed the improvement to a decision by the ministry to provide exam timetables and other material to schools over a month in advance.
McLean was one of several representatives from the ministry who visited schools in the Corporate Area to get first-hand views of how teachers were preparing. Among the institutions she visited were Alpha and Jessie Ripoll Primary, as well as Wolmer's Preparatory. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites visited three others — Allman Town, Calabar and Franklin Town Primary.
"My heart goes out to the teachers and students," Thwaites said yesterday.
The minister also called on parents to support their children even if they are not selected to attend their school of choice when the exam results are released.
The minister said it was important for parents to move away from the belief that only traditional schools were performing.
The GSAT results are due in June.