The stressful prelude to SSEE by Melanie Allicock
Kaieteur News
July 13, 2004

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The results of this year’s Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE) were recently released by the Education Ministry and for almost all of the 18,000 students that wrote it countrywide, it meant that they could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

The relief for some came from the fact that they had attained the marks to be awarded the school of their desire but almost all of them expressed feelings of liberation from what they described as a year of arduous, rigorous, grueling work.

Even those in the top hundred, when interviewed, related that even though they have done remarkable well, have achieved a place at their dream school and made their parents and teachers proud, they would not wish to repeat the work schedule of the last year.

For the entire year prior to the SSEE exam, these 10-11 year-old students were forced to attend classes for eight to nine hours from Monday through Friday – their regular five-hour school session and an additional three to four hours of lessons.

On Saturdays, another five hours of lessons were added for emphasis, leaving them with only Sundays free.

However, this free day for most of them was spent doing more studying.

Most of the students interviewed related that after completing their afternoon lessons - as late as 7:30 some evenings - they were barely given a bite to eat, a bath and then it was another three or four hours of home work.

Others were allowed a few hours of rest on returning home, but had to get up later in the night to continue studying.

However, one of the leading SSEE teachers believe that while it is necessary for a child to do some amount of studying in preparation for any exam, it should be done in moderation.

Speaking with Kaieteur News, West Ruimveldt SSEE teacher Wilfred Success dismissed the notion that excessive lessons guarantee success.

According to him, the SSEE examination comprises work learnt in the entire primary school and, as such, by the time a student reaches level six (primary four) he/she should only be doing revision.

However, many parents do not feel that they are doing enough for their children’s chances at passing the exams unless they send them to hours and hours of lessons and insist that they diligently stick to a strict, arduous study routine.

Teachers benefit hugely as a result. Checks made by Kaieteur News revealed that the lowest cost of SSEE lessons is between $2,500 and $3,000 per month. Almost every Common Entrance class comprises in excess of 30 children.

Former Assistant Chief Education Officer of Georgetown Joseph Gilgious, in a recent interview with this newspaper, highlighted the fact that SSEE teachers are encouraged by the Ministry to teach the syllabus for the exam only during regular school hours.

He noted that the work for the syllabus is arranged so that it could be completed during the regular school hours, thus ruling out the need for extra lessons.

He explained that according to the Ministry’s rules, a teacher could request a contribution from students for extra lessons but stressed that a mandatory fee should not be demanded.

Instead, what presently obtains is that some teachers ensure that most of the classroom work is taught during the extra lessons sessions, thus forcing children to attend as they would be behind the other students if they don’t, Gilgious said.

A student of the Stella Maris Primary School, at her recent graduation ceremony last week, perhaps best captured the frustrations and fatigue she and her peers endure, in her poem ‘Thank God Common Entrance done.”

In a satirical way, the poem expressed the feelings of the pre-SSEE students who are made to give up every hobby, be deprived of any fun activity, confined to ridiculous study hours, loads of homework and tons of assignments that could rival that of a university student. During that year prior to the exam, the poem said, the students’ childhood pleasures are literally denied them.

With expressive clarity, she recalled how for an entire year, students were forced to carry around haversacks that were so heavy, they doubled under the weight. Others pulled luggage similar to those used by travelers.

In her poem, the student acknowledged that the experience, though difficult and frustrating for her peers, is one borne out of love and care by their parents.

“We know you love us and want the best for us, but is this really the best?”

She related that maybe parents and teachers become so caught up in the need for success that they sacrifice the children’s happiness to accomplish this.

She pleaded with teachers and parents to diminish the work load during this period and welcomed the Education Ministry’s decision to phase out the SSEE with effect from 2007, describing it as the “way out”.

One of the Ministry’s considerations for the phasing out of the SSEE is the massive pressure placed on the students during the year prior to the examination.

SSEE teacher Mr Success, however, wondered whether phasing out the SSEE is really the answer or if this will in fact have the reverse effect of pressuring children from an even younger age.

With the new examination process, students will be tested at levels two, four and six in Primary school.

The average marks from these three national examinations will determine the secondary school they are awarded.

In preparation for the SSEE examination, many pupils now begin attending lessons from as early as primary two.

Success observed that since Guyana has adopted a ‘lessons culture’ where parents believe that the only way to ensure their children’s success is to saturate them with lessons, it would be interesting to see from what age these tiny tots will be forced to attend classes in preparation for the level two exam.

This leaves one to wonder whether it would become the norm in the near future to see a three-year-old tugging a large duffel bag loaded with books along the street in preparation for the level two exam.