Columns

Champs and GSAT — Pressure and slide

Lloyd B
Smith

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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It is that time of year when much focus is placed on the nation's youth as the Inter-secondary Schools' Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships 2018 (popularly known as Champs) and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) take centre stage. There has been sufficient evidence to suggest that our young people are put through a great deal of stress (pressure and slide) as they are pushed to succeed. Failure is not an option.

With respect to the GSAT, there have been several incidents of suicides relating to students who have buckled under the pressure brought on mainly by parents. In addition, there have been numerous cases of children feeling depressed and dejected before and after sitting the examinations, while even parents, guardians and relatives go through overly anxious and sometimes angry moments as the suspense heightens with respect to whether the children fail or pass in addition to their being placed in a school of their choice (usually one of the brand-name institutions).

Interestingly, GSAT is now on its way out to be replaced with the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) beginning in the next academic year (2018-2019), and already a recent newspaper report revealed that during a series of consultations educators found that a number of parents remained fearful, while several teachers were still trying to understand the process. In fact, the situation was described as being fraught with a serious fear of the unknown as, even at this incipient stage, there is growing tension among parents and students.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of the former Common Entrance Examination and GSAT experience was the stigmatisation of certain schools, whereby traditional high schools were seen as superior and far more an attractive proposition for would-be secondary high students as against the so-called non-traditional high schools. Of course, over time this myth or ill-advised perception has been shattered as several of the newer schools have been outshining their age-old counterparts in academics and sports. The bottom line is that there must be a pre-qualification system that levels the playing field that will help get rid of elitism, prejudice and marginalisation.

Another negative side to this GSAT “pressure and slide” is the robbing children of their right to enjoy their childhood. Yes, studying assiduously is important, but should our young ones be put through such a strict, overburdensome regimen with little time to play and enjoy themselves in recreational activities? Surely, this type of stressful situation can and will affect their mental and physical health. Also, are we, whether wittingly or unwittingly, inculcating in the minds of many of our young charges that if they fail that is the end of the road for them, and that for the rest of their lives they will be tagged as “dunce and good for nothing”?

In this regard, a friend of mine sent me this pep talk given by a Kenyan professor to freshmen during their orientation: “Academic excellence is overrated! Being top of your class does not necessarily a guarantee that you will be at the top of life. You could graduate as the best student in finance but it doesn't mean you will make more money than anybody else. The best graduating law student does not necessarily become the best lawyer. The fact is, life requires more than the ability to understand a concept, memorise it, and reproduce it in an exam. School rewards people for their memory; life rewards people for their imagination. School rewards caution; life rewards daring. School hails those who live by the rules; life exalts those who break the rules and set new ones.

“So do I mean people shouldn't study hard in school? Oh, no, you should. But don't sacrifice everything on the altar of first class. Don't limit yourself to the classroom. Do something practical,” he continues. And finally, he states: “Think less of becoming an excellent student, but think more of becoming an excellent person. Don't make the classroom to be your world, but make the world your classroom…”

In the meantime, over at the National Stadium, as the 2018 Champs unfolds, it may well be a case of blood, sweat and tears. Yes, winning is great, but this should not be the be-all and end-all of the young athletes' lives. No doubt, the Usain Bolt phenomenon, while being a major inspirational force, may also have the unfortunate effect of causing our aspiring athletes to win at all costs, including the possibility of being burnt out too soon. Indeed, historically we have seen many talented and high-profile school athletes peak in performance at Champs, never to be heard of again when the dust settles.

I worry about the current intensity of the competition as past students, fans and parents, especially those aligned to the leading schools, take their game to such a fierce partisan level that could lead to violence and intimidation. Champs should not be akin to the political hustings where partisan hacks behave like tribes perpetually at war. It should be that the blues, the greens and purples among other colours can compete in an atmosphere of friendly rivalry, instead of the scorched-earth approach some rabid supporters are wont to take.

Unfortunately, high school sports, especially in the fields of football and athletics, is fast becoming big business, with the athletes being mere pawns in games of chance, one-upmanship, as well as old boys' fanaticism and machismo. In the long run, it is the young athletes who will be permanently damaged by this ill-conceived approach towards competitive sports at that level. Methinks it is time to draw brakes, and it is therefore the hope of every well-thinking Jamaican that this year's Champs will be incident-free and reflect, in the final analysis, the true spirit of sportsmanship. Jamaica is in enough trouble already. Let sports be a healer not a stealer of our best values.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who has resided in Montego Bay for most of his life where he is popularly known as The Governor. Send comments to the Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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