September is here, a time of transition! Fresh waves of students have entered university, college, Lower Six, Form One and let us not forget, First Year. It seems as if everyone is starting a new phase in education. Everyone is understandably a little anxious when beginning a new curriculum and a new system. First Year students need their new ‘aunty’ to be understanding and ease them into ‘big school’. Form One students have to get used to being at the bottom of the ladder again after being the big boys and girls in primary school. Form Six students are fresh from the triumphs of CXC and beginning to look ahead to tertiary education. And university and college students are tasting all kinds of new experiences and freedoms, pleasant and unpleasant. However, today, we want to focus on the Form Ones and Form Sixes. This is because it is at these points in the school system that the greatest leaps in learning are required. This is not simply because the complexity of the work has increased. It is also because the type of thinking required changes significantly. Form One students come from a system where they have been drilled systematically for at least two years. They have practised so much that they are ‘over rehearsed’ for the SEA (and the standards required, as we all know, are very high: over 95% for a ‘first choice’ school and over 90% if you want any chance of being on its ‘20 percent list’). So Form One students enter secondary school with an unrealistic and inflated idea of what school marks should be. This is especially true for those who have been placed in the ‘prestige’ schools, who are by now used to regularly scoring over 90% in all tests. Unfortunately, Form One marks aren’t going to stay up in this rarefied air. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, instead of focusing on Maths and Language Arts, students now have to do 12 or 13 subjects, which means they are now using a much wider range of skills. As a neuropsychologist will tell you, in any normal brain, some skills are very good, some are average and some are poor. In the school environment, this translates into being good at some subjects and not good at others.
Parents need to be especially aware of this. Like their children, they may expect to see the same kind of report card they did in primary school, with all marks in the nineties. They need to know that 90% is now going to be a rarity. A much more realistic aim is for 70% and over. In secondary school, that’s a good average. Students are also not being given the opportunity to rehearse the material as exhaustively as they did in Standards Four and Five. There won’t be any drilling or frequent repetition. Teachers will also be moving at a much quicker rate. In a few schools, teachers have begun a trend of revising for end of term exams in class with the students, but this doesn’t seem to be widespread. So students have to do all their own revision, and for a much wider range of material. And finally, the skills needed in secondary school are so different. Students have to learn how to analyse, make inferences, synthesise, apply principles across a wide range of situations and do intelligent research, that is, sifting through facts to select only the relevant information and then shaping this into a meaningful answer to the research question. None of this is typically part of the primary school experience. To summarise, secondary school requires that students use a much wider range of skills. These skills are fairly new for most students and they won’t be given much help to learn and develop them, but will be expected to start demonstrating them right away. Students will also be faced with an extremely heavy load of new information to master. Under these circumstances, parents and students must be realistic about the kinds of grades they expect. Next week: Form Sixes!