Minister of Education Addressing GSAT Issues


Minister of Education, Hon. Andrew Holness, says his Ministry is making efforts to eliminate the jostling for high school places, which has characterised the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) each year.
He said this speaks directly to the need for students to be fully literate by the time they enter Grade Six, as well as the need to build schools that are centres of excellence, where parents will feel comfortable sending their children.
Mr. Holness was speaking at Wednesday’s (July 22) Post Cabinet Press Briefing at Jamaica House, which offered journalists the opportunity of seeking clarifications from his sectoral debate contribution in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (July 21).
The Minister explained that approximately 47,000 students, who sit the GSAT each year, are competing for approximately12,000 places in the island’s top 50 high schools.
“That kind of competition for places adds a great deal of stress to the students and the parents, and this kind of rationing of education space is effectively rationing life chances,” he said.
He added that the perception is that, if students get into a good school, they will have a better chance in life. However, he said that this suggests a disadvantage for students who do not do well at GSAT because of literacy challenges.
He pointed out that GSAT is a knowledge-based exam, and if students can’t read, it is difficult to acquire knowledge so they do poorly at GSAT and, because of the mechanism for rationing the scarce high school places, their labour market choices, as well as tertiary education choices, are reduced.
“If we don’t ensure full literacy, we immediately lock off life chances for most of our students. What we have to ensure is that all students enter GSAT with a fair chance – being literate, so that they can gain knowledge from the curriculum,” Mr. Holness elaborated.
He said that once students who sit GSAT are literate, with high grade averages, it will not matter what school they are placed in.
“The present situation is that we place students who are low level literate, or illiterate, in schools that, we say, are high schools. But, those schools have to depart from the secondary curriculum, in order to remediate for literacy. As soon as we raise the tide of literacy, we will be raising all schools,” he stated.
He said that each new school that is built must, therefore, be an institution where parents will choose to send their children.
“We don’t intend to remove choice from placement.we have built several new schools but none of them, save for two or three, in our recent history have gone into the top 50 preferred schools. Again, much of it is that those schools get low level or illiterate students, as a large part of their population, and then the school has to struggle with them,” Mr. Holness observed.
The intent now is to build schools that are centres of excellence; that are properly managed, where parents will feel comfortable sending their children, he said.
He noted that the Ministry will also ensure that all the children sent to these schools are in fact literate, so that they will be able to stick to the secondary schools curriculum.
“The objective of the centres of excellence is to meet and exceed standards set for secondary educational institutions, by the establishment and maintenance of a culture of excellence, in all aspects of the school’s administrative, academic and operational activities,” he said.

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