The Grade Six Achievement Test, GSAT, results have come in for quite a bit of discussion in both the print and electronic media. While I have not heard all of the discussion it seems as if the GSAT is being blamed for several things for which it is definitely not responsible. Some have made the charge that the GSAT has not been fair to the Comprehensive High Schools or All Age Schools. For the sake of clarity let me set out what has changed with the GSAT and what has remained the same as the Common Entrance Examination that it replaced.
The GSAT is different from the Common Entrance in the following ways:
- The GSAT is mandatory for all Grade 6 students plus those students who would turn 12 years by the end of the school year. The CEE was not grade related nor was there any requirement for 12-year olds to sit the exam.
- The GSAT includes English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Writing while the CEE included English, Mathematics and Mental Ability.
- The GSAT is done in late March while the CEE was done in late January.
- The GSAT selects students for Traditional High Schools, Comprehensive High Schools and Junior High Schools. Next year Technical High Schools will be added to the list. The CEE selected students for Traditional High Schools and Comprehensive High Schools.
- The computer does selection and placement using the GSAT results, while in the case of the CEE a Committee did the selection and placement.
The GSAT and the CEE are similar in the following respects.
- Both are used as instruments of selecting the students to be placed in secondary schools.
- Both use merit, students’ choices of school and student residence as the criteria for selection and placement in secondary schools.
- In both cases the criteria listed above are used to place all the students selected for Traditional High Schools but only some of the students placed in Comprehensive High Schools.
- In both cases Comprehensive High Schools also receive students from feeder primary schools located in close proximity to them.
The point to note is that the complaints of the persons related to Comprehensive High Schools and the All Age Schools about the GSAT cannot really be blamed on the GSAT. These were the same practices that took place under the Common Entrance system of selecting and placing students in secondary schools. The GSAT has not changed the policy of selection and placement.
The real question therefore is whether the policy of selection and placement, used for the CEE and now the GSAT, is fair and equitable. In my judgment the Ministry of Education, in the first year of the GSAT, has missed a golden opportunity to correct a gross injustice in the selection and placement students in secondary schools. This is really at the root of the dissatisfaction being expressed. In addition, the Ministry has further compounded the problem by including Junior High Schools in the selection and placement process.
The critical questions that must be faced and addressed are these:
Why should children in primary schools be guaranteed places in secondary schools regardless of their performance in the selection examinations?
Why should some children in All Age Schools, who have performed better than children in primary schools, be denied places in secondary schools solely on the basis of the geographic location of the schools they attended?
Why should the difference in the basis of selecting students for Traditional High Schools and Comprehensive Schools continue?
These differences exist because of passed reforms that have not been rationalised. In 1957 the Common Entrance Examination was employed as the basis for selecting children from Primary, All age and Preparatory schools to attend Traditional High Schools. Merit was the principal criterion for selection. The neighbourhood school concept of primary schools becoming feeder schools to a secondary school in their vicinity started with the Senior Schools and was later carried over to the Junior Secondary Schools that later became New Secondary Schools. The main criterion for placement was geographical location of the schools. The Comprehensive High Schools were introduced and included both types of selection, by merit and by geography. More recently most of the New Secondary School have been transformed into Comprehensive High Schools.
Many of us were hoping that the Reform of Secondary Education and the introduction of the GSAT would bring about the resolution of the irrational differences between different types of secondary schools, particularly in the policies used to select their students. I hope that it is not too late for the Ministry to bring about the needed resolution.
My recommendations to the Ministry of Education for next year are simple:
Restrict the selection process to secondary schools that offer five years of secondary education. That is, use the GSAT to select and place students in Traditional High Schools, Comprehensive High Schools, and Technical High Schools. Drop the Junior High Schools from the list of schools for selection.
- Make merit and students’ choices within their parishes the sole bases of selection and placement.
- Where students in primary schools do not merit places in secondary schools, either transfer them to neighbouring All Age or Junior High Schools or transform them into All Age or Junior High Schools if the numbers warrant.
- Retain the Grade Nine Achievement Test, GNAT, as the basis for giving a second chance to students of All Ages and Junior High Schools to gain entry into the five years schools.
I am firmly of the view that merit and mastery of the primary curriculum should be the basis of promotion to the secondary level. Automatic promotion from the primary to the secondary level without the requirement of meeting some performance standards is not the best use of scarce resources and sends the wrong signals to our young people.