Jamaica students face GSAT space crunch

KINGSTON, Jamaica – The Jamaica Ministry of Education is uncertain if it has enough school spaces to accommodate all the students who sat the Grade Six Achievement Test last week.

According to Dr Charlene Ashley, director of communications in the Ministry of Education, the ministry would know the number of spaces it has when the GSAT papers are marked in May.

A total of 50,462 students registered for the GSAT this year compared to 52,703 who sat the examination in 2007.

Ashley said while fewer students sat the exam this year, it did not necessarily follow that more space was available. She explained that where space might be available for some students, it might be geographically out of reach. “And you can’t send a child from Kingston to a school in Montego Bay,” she added.

Ronald Thwaites, the People’s National Party’s deputy spokesman on education, said every possible effort should be made for spaces to be created for all students who sat the GSAT.

The results are usually due in June. However, in 2006, the results were late, prompting then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to order a probe into the delayed publication.

Among the reasons for the delay, cited by the ministry’s officers, was the fact that up to 2,000 more students wrote the test that year, resulting in difficulty finding school spaces. The shortage was mostly in the ministry of education’s Region Six, which covers St Catherine and Clarendon. This area is currently experiencing a population explosion.

Last year, more than 200 students were placed in schools which were not yet constructed, forcing the ministry to place them in other schools.

The GSAT replaced the Common Entrance Examination in 1999. Performance in the test determines the placement of students in secondary schools.

Students were assessed on a range of subjects namely, mathematics, language arts, social studies, science and communication tasks.

But how exactly are students selected to go to secondary schools?

According to Ashley, students are given five choices of schools, which they usually select prior to the examination.

She noted that students are then electronically placed in schools based on their scores and choice. If the school of first choice is filled, students are then given their second choice. This process continues until all five choices are exhausted.

If students are still not placed, Ashley said the ministry goes to what is called a preference list which is developed by the ministry’s six administrative regions.

She said the preference list is based on space availability in the different regions. If students are still not placed, the ministry then conducts a manual placement and assigns students to schools close to the last institution they attended.

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