GSAT Exams – Is too much pressure being placed on 10-year olds to achieve?

The Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is done by most primary and preparatory school children and one cannot help but wonder whether or not there is a bit too much pressure being placed on 10- year old Jamaican children. The test is usually taken in the month of March and the results are published in June of the same year.

As long as anyone can remember, having experienced the stress and strain of studying constantly to ensure good placement in the school of your choice, both parents and children alike wished they could avoid the March period entirely. From weekdays extra lessons to Saturday classes, each day was a period in which each student would revise and re-revise the syllabus in order to prove that they could in fact make it in the future. But are these common entrance exams building more anxiety than confidence?

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In the Annual Statistical Review of the Education Sector – Education Statistics report for 2012/2013 by the Ministry of Education, forty-seven thousand four hundred and three students were enrolled in Grade Six at the primary level of education across the island of Jamaica. The 2011/2012 statistics from the same report showed that females outperformed males in Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts, and equally performed at the same standard in Communication Studies.

However, there was a striking observation that the mean scores across subjects were ranging from 57-67 for the 43,288 students who sat the examination in that same year. Is this due to the additional stress of trying to get into a ‘good’ school and gain approval from relatives which result in the underperformance, or due to the intelligence level of these students? Evidently, one can foresee the amount of students who will be granted acceptance to the ‘top’, ‘average’ and ‘bad’ schools based on their grades.

What about the choice of the children? Many sixth graders are oblivious to these life-changing decisions — truth be told. Nonetheless, if they had the ability to make a decision as to which school they would want to go, would it be based on prior knowledge of the high school or what their peers choose? One would therefore realize why parents choose ‘what’s best for them, because they are not old enough to make proper decisions’, but are these decisions creating adverse effects on the child? Especially if they don’t get into their school of choice?

Erikson (1959) and his psychosocial development states that at the School Age, 5-12, students undergo the stage of Industry versus Inferiority. At this stage, they learn how to read and write, therefore obtaining competency. While the teacher plays an important role in the child’s life, their peers become a source of the child’s self-esteem, and as such feel the need to gain approval. The child also attempts to gain a sense of pride in their accomplishments as a result of this stage, and inability to do so will create a feeling of inferiority or inadequacy and doubt their abilities to succeed and reach their potential.

However, if children are reinforced and encouraged, they are able to feel industrious and confident of their capability to achieve their goals and aspirations. The balance needs to be struck nonetheless between competence and modesty. Success is a virtue of competence in this retrospect and failure is necessary for the development of modesty.

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Even though it is not popularly recognized that 10-12 year olds can experience intense feelings of rejection, acceptance, anxiety, sadness, studies show that they in fact can – especially if they have sensitive and caring personalities. Heller (2012) states that children who are at the primary school level often times worry excessively, have nightmares, among other feelings of anxiety. To counteract this, Heller (2012) suggests that resilience training be implemented in the teaching programme to counteract these feelings, especially during the stressful times – examination time. This would teach them how to employ effective ways in which they will promote relaxation of their bodies and decrease anxiety, among other adverse symptoms.

By: Alexandra Daley



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