Grade Six exams: The upsets and the fallout

“When my daughter write she get the lowest school in Georgetown. I couldn’t believe it, is like I went in shock…,” she said quietly.

It has been five years but as I looked at her the pain of how she felt when she received her child’s results was still evident. She is a 38-year-old mother of three and had just received her second child’s National Grade Six Examination results and while he performed 100% better than his sister, the mother was still somewhat disappointed. He was always a high flyer in his school and it was expected that he would earn a place at one of the city’s top schools; instead he is to attend a Grade B school.

“He not bothering though and a kinda happy for that, but I think he coulda do better. He use to work hard though, he would study and so and I know he will do well,” the mother said of her son’s results.

With the Grade Six examination results just out and all the commentary about the top 1% being celebrated while the other children are made to feel less than, I decided to speak to a parent who had just received her child’s result. She agreed but did not want to be named because her daughter is now a teenager and she did not want her to feel embarrassed.

“I know when I get de results that me daughter couldn’t go there. I was vex and angry but like when I look at the child I couldn’t punish she and send she there. The school don’t have no grade when I look at the grading duh is de only school with no grade,” she said passionately.

“Now tell me how I coulda send me daughter there?” she asked, not expecting an answer.

“Leh me tell you something is not as if de child couldn’t read or write and when she write grade two and grade four exams she name went up on de school board because she do good so when I get grade six results it was a shock.”

I have spoken to her daughter on several occasions and the child is very articulate and could have been attending any top city school.

“So I had to fork out money and send me child to a private school,” she continued. “It was not easy but I tek one look at de school she get and I know it was a no, no. No teachers nothing and it cramp. I just feel sorry for dem children wah have to go there honestly,” she said.

“Look I can’t read and write and when I go anywhere, and I have to write me name and address and suh is me daughter use to help me. So, as I tell you, is not like deh child was a dunce child, is not like she couldn’t read and write so how she get dah school only God alone know. Is like I think she blank out in de exams or something. Something had to happen.

“But nobody don’t look at how de children use to perform is like dem just banish them, when you give dem certain kinds a school, is like you banishing them because what kind of teaching dem getting? So, if a child parent can’t afford to send them to a private school den they have to lef right there and what chance de child getting at CXC or if dem even meeting CXC class?” she asked.

“Well now I waiting for the CXC results. She write eight subjects and maybe she would just get five because I have to tell you de child lil lazy. I could say dah now because she old enough to do better but she don’t like study and think that she could just wake up and write exam and pass. But she would get a few subjects. I have no doubt about that. But is what she would do after.

“… People must look into when dem children struggle and write CXC and dem get a few subjects wah happening to them. Some a dem get the subjects and can’t even get a job and dem parents can’t afford to send them further. You see how poor people can’t mek it in this country?

“I is not nobody with any big education, but I think they should change how dem does do the grade six exams. I don’t know what to tell them to do but dem can’t be putting all dem pressure on dem lil children. Is like if dem children studying for university or something,” she said.

I could not have agreed more. The child who performs the poorest goes to the school that performs the poorest, the school that does not have any conducive learning environment. Then five years down the road they are expected to perform better. There is no doubt that the education system in Guyana is skewed.

Parents do not help the situation with the immense pressure they place on the small shoulders of their children. Threatening them at times with harm should they not perform to their (the parents’) expectations. In my line of work, I have seen many children cry uncontrollably because they did not get a ‘good school.’

In my time when I wrote what we called Common Entrance I am not sure if there was this amount of pressure on children. Since I grew up in a remote area and there was only a slim possibility of me attending a secondary school, there was no pressure when I wrote the examination. In fact, I can’t recall the school even having a graduation exercise. I did get a place at a secondary school, but my colleagues and I all knew we were moving on to the secondary department of our primary school.

Three years later, by a fluke, I got the opportunity to attend a secondary school and had to start the process from Form One, even though I had passed that stage. I did it and got the opportunity to write the CXC examination.

My mother never pressured me and even though the dynamics are slightly different I am hoping that years down the line my children can say the same thing.

I have watched a bubbly child who was quick witted reduced to a child who did not even want to look one in the eyes and barely spoke. I might be wrong, but I believe it had to do with the tremendous pressure the child was under as she approached Grade Six. So concerned was I that I approached the child’s mother. She assured me that the child was quite okay and that she was not being pressured. The examination is over and while I am not sure of the child’s school placement I do hope that it was sufficient enough to ward off any remonstration from the mother.

Instead of celebrating the top one percent—while I agree those children should be rewarded for their hard work—I believe the powers that be should focus on fixing the broken system and ensuring that all children, regardless of their placement, are given a fair chance.

Let’s look at this year’s performance. According to the statistics provided, while English this year saw a rise to 60% it was the only subject in which a pass rate was recorded above 50% as only 46% of the 14,145 students who sat the exams earned passes in Science and Social Studies, while a mere 38% passed Mathematics. It is not a pretty picture.

And let’s not forget what a symposium on education was told last week; over 40% of the 14,145 students who wrote the examinations would likely not graduate secondary school.

This was according to Education Specialist Audrey Rodrigues and Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist Michael Gillis, in their presentation titled “Consideration for Accelerating Attendance, Participation and Performance,” which was delivered at a Symposium on Boys’ Education at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre. They said that 55% of Guyanese students graduate secondary school.

In fact, based on the data presented by the two UNICEF employees, only 47% of Guyanese boys and 57% of girls matriculate.

These are damming statistics, and this is what the powers that be should be looking to fix. There is much work to be done and those at the head have to roll their sleeves up and do what is right.

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