Speech
Minister of Education, the Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites.

Cabinet today approved the recommendation by the Ministry of Education to postpone the holding of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) from March 19 and 20 to the new dates of March 26 and 27. The decision was occasioned by the disturbance caused by the on-going fire and accompanying smog at the Riverton City disposal site.

The overarching principle submitted for Cabinet’s deliberation was to ensure equity.

In arriving at the decision to postpone the holding of GSAT by one week, Cabinet considered the following factors:

Of the 38,470 students scheduled to sit the examination over the two days 11,675 are within the areas affected by the fire, which involves 241 schools in Kingston, St Andrew and St Catherine.

The Ministry’s checks on the ground revealed that some of the GSAT students as well as staff members are affected by the adverse conditions.

Given the uncertainty regarding the containment of the fire it would be difficult to go ahead and keep the original dates for the exam. Potentially, the adverse conditions could shift, based on wind movements, and disrupt the examination while in progress.

The Ministry’s team was, therefore, forced to explore the options of

a)    Relocation of the centres for dislocated students or

b)    Holding a second sitting of the exam for children affected by the fire

c)     Postponement of the exams

 

Relocation of the centres

The logistics involved in establishing alternative examination centres outside of the parishes affected by the fire would include:

  • Finding venues that are suitable for the 11,600 dislocated students
  • Arranging for suitable desks and chairs and having the rooms organized
  • Providing transportation for the students and invigilators.
  • Providing lunch for all GSAT workers and students

In addition,

  • Parents who would normally visit to provide lunch for children would be challenged.
  • It must be noted that students perform best in an environment with which they are familiar and hence an unfamiliar environment may disrupt their ability to focus and concentrate.

Administering the exam twice

Regarding the option of administering the exam twice, the Ministry of Education does not have the capacity at this time to implement that. This would involve the cost and time to write new exam papers etc.

Postponement

Postponement was considered the most feasible options for the following reasons:

  • A number of GSAT students with respiratory conditions have been affected by the smog and might continue to be affected during this week.
  • Some parents have already moved children out of the affected areas to keep them from the health challenges associated with the smog
  • Our children need to be physically and emotionally ready for the exams
  • The change of date for the exam will not affect the date of release of the results.

Parents and children in the parishes outside of Kingston, St Andrew and Catherine might not appreciate fully the reasons for this postponement. Jamaica is a small country with all persons having a vested interest in GSAT. Even adults who are out of the town may have relatives in the areas affected. Consideration should, therefore, be given to everyone to ensure that our children are given the fairest opportunity to sit and maximize their performance on the exams.