When I was in grade 6…
I spent hours sprawled around the house, reading books of my choice.
I climbed on hay bales with Cherry, built forts outside with the boys, and made paper dolls for my cousins.
I practiced my violin but was not overly disciplined. I went to AWANA but was not great at it. I went golfing with Dad mostly to drive the golf cart.
In school I know I dreaded math, but everything else was pretty great. I had a fun workbook where I looked for editorial mistakes in fake news articles. I made a salt map of Egypt. Since I was homeschooled I was usually done for the day by early afternoon. I took a standardized test maybe, but it was more for my mom’s reassurance and it wasn’t a big deal to me.
My life was largely carefree and I had endless time to just enjoy being a kid.
A Jamaican 6th grader*…
Stays up until late at night and gets up early the next morning to study, in the weeks or months leading up to the GSAT (grade six achievement test). Perhaps their schedule looks like this:
“Right now, I am feeling very excited, I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I would get into my first choice,” [a student with a top GSAT score] told the Observer. When asked why he was so confident, he said, “I went to school seven days of the week, I went to extra lessons and I cut my television and computer time.”
Has a test prep book the size of a large dictionary and carries it around to squeeze in review during any spare moment of the day.
Is trying to understand 9th grade+ level concepts.
Pulls from the newspaper a section for kids with GSAT practice questions and does those on a Saturday morning. (What I’ve seen before looks like a cartoon section or kids puzzle section, but it’s test prep.)
Has their parents help them select their 5 top high school choices. They probably do this with crossed fingers and lots of prayers. There are a limited number of high schools, period, and an even smaller number of good ones; and depending on where you live, they may not be close.
“In 2012: According to the Ministry of Education, of the 43,300 students who took the GSAT, 28,315 were placed in schools they selected, while 13,343 were placed based on the proximity of their homes to schools. The remaining 1,642 were manually placed.”
Feels pressure. A lot of pressure. From family, from teachers, from society. And the family, the teachers, the society feels the pressure, too.
“It is not about the test; you need enough places of suitable and available quality.”
-Dr. Russell (a creator of the GSAT)
“The children are crying. They feel as if they have failed.. I know the Ministry [of Education] is trying and they will say all our schools are viable, but we have to be realistic,” [a school principal] said. “The concern for parents is not so much the academic standard of those schools, but the social fabric, because the cultures of the children are very different.”
She said, for example, she had two non-Jamaican, second-language students placed at Tarrant High. [A school that in the past has had trouble with crime.] “One is from mainland China and the parents are not even sure what to do at this stage. My concern is, will they be able to manage socially and emotionally?” the principal lamented. (Full article here)
Knows that this is going to determine the future course of their life. A sixth grader has this weight on their shoulders.
Critics say it is unreasonable to subject 10-to-12 year-old students to a “one-shot” exam with such huge implications for their future education.
Hopes, hopes they get a good score.. if they don’t, hopefully, hopefully they have a supportive family and take the news well. Some don’t.. and it’s tragic:
“Important evidence is when a child takes his GSAT and is not placed where he wants to go, the child is threatened with bodily harm; and instead of the child waiting for the parent to inflict that bodily harm, he pre-empts it and does it himself, because a lot of children hang themselves and take poison when they are not placed where the parents want them to go,” Dr Russell [GSAT creator] stated.
This week, on Thursday and Friday, the 6th graders of Jamaica will be taking the GSAT. Will you join with me in praying for them? And for the parents, teachers, educational system, and the whole wonderful country of Jamaica?
I’m praying especially for the students who chose to continue Bible quizzing this year even with the mental challenge of GSAT study on their plate. Their teachers discourage them from doing this, out of concern for them being overloaded. But some chose to do it anyway, because they love Bible Quizzing, they want to do it for their last year, and because they love God and learning His Word. Praying that the memory work and the encouragement of Scripture will strengthen their minds and hearts as they take the test. And that they will hold on to the true hope for their future no matter what the outcome is.
I’ll finish by quoting this prayer from an email I received from my friend, a former teacher who helps with the Bible Quiz:
“SOME SCHOOLS ARE SO DIFFICULT ,WE CANNOT HAVE THE CHILDREN TO PRACTICE THEM, THIS GSAT SCHOLARSHIP STUDY, BLOCKS EVERYTHING.
I KNOW THE BIBLE QUIZ HELPS TO EXPAND THEIR THINKING, AND GOD WILL OPEN UP THEIR MINDS AND BRAINS, THEIR INTEGRETY IN LEARNING.”
Some of the newspaper articles I quoted / for further reading:
GSAT Joy and Grief
Letter to the editor: GSAT changes
Just a cool story
Optimistic GSAT student
Jamaica Ministry of Education on facebook
*A LITTLE DISCLAIMER: this is based on things told me by teachers I’ve met in Jamaica, my own observations from being there, and some online research. I know I only have a tiny grasp on this complicated issue and I probably got some things mixed around! So I apologize in advance! I’ll keep looking into this because I’ve come to care about the students of Jamaica.
I’ve learned of the efforts many are making to improve the educational system there. It is definitely not something that can be fixed overnight. And of course as you compare education in Jamaica with the education children get in other countries of the world, well basically it becomes a much bigger thing than I’m able to wrap my head around! There are both positive and negative things everywhere.
The majority of students I’ve met in Jamaica are incredibly bright, talented, disciplined and successful in school, with the help of their hard-working teachers. It’s no wonder that these children are valued as highly as they are by many Jamaicans. I value them too and appreciate you reading my thoughts. Thanks!! ~Frances