GSAT is dead, long live PEP and critical thinking


Friday, October 26, 2018

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Peeps are shocked that Jamaicans react badly to Grade Six Achievement Tests (GSAT) considering how judgemental we are. We love to judge “she hair, she shoes, she dress, she man, she a bleach har skin”. We have contests in song, dance, sound system clash; best farmer, farm queen; sports, body beautiful — all are physical. Contests of adult brains, such as family quiz shows, team Sudoku, or crossword puzzles are rare. We laud Mr Big Belly and Miss Obese as we are not body-shamed. But are we embarrassed by our brains?

An exam to rate all kids is a product of Christian socialism, which avers all are equal and is now a global norm. Fabian socialism exalts workers, so health care, pension, welfare for all exists in Britain and is our goal. Is the Jamaica Labour Party or Jamaica socialist?

In old England all had a place and knew it; a peasant farms, artisans ply trades, nobles defend the realm, priests save souls, Oxford was intellectual ferment and innovation. Yet any man could be extraordinary — warriors, inventors, explorers, leaders — based on skill and enterprise. Jamaica is 92.1 per cent black, so is it an African model to guide us in training our kids? No! As an exceptional, small black nation, and as Africa does not write its history, we must use the best of Europe.

Today, all nations believe there is an education level a child should attain to be a good citizen, and now our Cabinet has agreed to join the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares achievement of 15-year-old kids globally — great! Caribbean nations are in PISA, but only Trinidad in the West Indies, and, sadly, of the near 60 members, no African nation.

GSAT is gone, but the new Primary Exit Profile (PEP) will still show up the dunce; so parents, invest in your kids!

Jamaica is extraordinary and a role model to black nations. The National Standards Curriculum (NSC) and PEP are the products of the education transformation started by former Prime Minister P J Patterson with $5 billion from the National Housing Trust (NHT) and supported by all prime ministers. Its focus is education quality; so the output is invisible, there is no building to name after them.

Since 2004 we have incurred tens of billions in debt for dozens of local and foreign consultants and new bodies. We have trained thousands of teachers, principals, and civil servants. There have been volumes of reports and texts. We have revised laws. Now, finally, the PEP is to be reality come 2019. Oh, glorious day!

So, why did we incur this debt when so many are hungry? Well we found out that most adults could not reason; were always angry, disruptive; and so assault and injure, as “a she mek mi vex”— even murder ensued. Also 70 per cent of our workforce is untrained, and productivity is low so we can't grow. Business process outsourcing (BPO) firms can't migrate to better jobs as they are at the dregs in our skills pool, as many with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subject passes are illiterate. The ignoramus is also in politics, so Jamaica Labour Party and People's National Party ideas do not contend — but supporters do! PEP is required so future adults will think critically, control self, master English, produce, and enable the prosperity agenda.

PEP will assess in several sittings what GSAT did in one. Parents may have five small panic attacks, not the single big conniption of GSAT. But PEP will still show up who is first and who last. All are born equal, but inequality begins at birth. Parents will still spend millions on extra lessons, girls will do better than boys, bright kids will go to the best schools, and the devil takes the hindmost. PEP is great, but not a cure-all.

Check this: Every year 36,000 kids reach age 12, and over 90 per cent are in primary school. Pareto's law says 20 per cent of kids will control 80 per cent of the value and vice versa. Most kids work at easy stuff and use their mouths, hands, feet (to sing, DJ, act, play sport, labour, dance); few use their brains, as to think is hard. Of the age cohort some passed GSAT, some did not; some were not allowed to sit it, and some were absent. PEP will assess all 36,000 over three years — humane and transparent. No more blame game!

PEP will assess readiness over grades 4, 5, 6 and place kids in a secondary school at grade 6 using a “performance task” to see how kids handle practical situations; an “ability test” to assess abstract thinking, verbal, non-verbal ability; and a “curriculum-based test” in mathematics, science, social studies, language arts for content. No more rote learning (memorising)! PEP will assess on an age-appropriate basis; if all can do by age 12 why can't you?

Critical thinking is the holy grail of education as quality of life and nation depend on it. It applies reason to the spatial, numbers, and verbal in real situations. It has two dimensions: To act using these tools and to master English — as, “If you can't communicate it, it's worthless!” Some 20 per cent are critical thinkers because of home — wash dishes, do crosswords, fix stuff, butcher chickens, mow lawn. They work out how to do chores well. But 80 per cent are not, and need awakening.

A critical thinking adult is pro-active, defends the community and environment, is productive, asks questions, is hard to manipulate. What is the prognosis for critical thinking in the school system? Will it work? Next week. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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