Friday, February 20, 2009

Approximately 4,000 at-risk inner-city primary-school students are to benefit from an educational venture designed to improve Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) passes and hopefully break the back of gang recruitment in violence-plagued communities.The technology savvy pro-gramme, known as GoGSAT, could prove a major anti-crime initiative. “We have seen that when students underperform and subsequently drop out of school, they are prime targets for gang recruitment,” said Sean Osner, deputy director of the Office of Sustainable Development at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Jamaica. “Our support targets students who are performing below average and who would likely perform poorly on the GSAT test. When their performance is improved, they are less likely to drop out of school and less susceptible to becoming new recruits for gangs.” Senior Superintendent of Police Iris McCalla Gordon, of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Community Safety and Security Branch, said the programme is of much value, especially to young men who are most likely to be sucked into crime’s violent vacuum. “We must do everything possible to raise the educational standards of young people, particularly young men who are often drawn into violence at an early age.”

GoGSAT is a partnership between the JCF, the Social Development Commission and the USAID Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET) Project. Under the pilot phase, launched in 2006, the entities co-sponsored 370 students from communities imple-menting community-based policing to participate in the online preparatory course during the 2008 academic year. The programme costs approxi-mately $1,000 per month but schools pay $2,500 per year for each computer. The success of the programme has led to its expansion. “This effort was highly successful as more than 80 per cent of participating students, most of whom had been deemed to be at risk of performing poorly and dropping out of school, received very high grades in their GSAT exams,” read a section of a release issued at the press briefing.

Official launch

While the success of the pilot phase was lauded during the press briefing, held at Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel in St Andrew yesterday, the expansion of the programme, which will include a course on community safety and security, was also officially launched.

Speaking at the event, Dr Margaret Bailey, principal of the Rollington Town Primary School, said the introduction of the initiative transformed the GSAT fortunes of her students.

“That was when we started to see a turnaround in GSAT,” she said. Bailey explained that in addition to getting passes to schools in the upper educational echelons, one of her students received a Bank of Nova Scotia scholarship.

“(GoGSAT is) innovative, comprehensive, creative (and a) breath of fresh air in the teaching/learning process,” Bailey said.

Bertrand Laurent, director of the COMET Project, underscored that youths are some of the most critical actors in community transformation.

Shalette East, vice-president of GoGSAT, said the web-based programme was designed by test development professionals to assist Jamaican students with their GSAT preparation.

She added that the system, which covers the grades four to six curricula, boasts more than 6,000 practice questions written by experienced teachers, test writers and authors, who have published textbooks.

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