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Anxious parent and 11-Plus child

Building-BridgesMy last daughter joined over 3,000 students sitting the 11-Plus Exam this year.  I take this opportunity to wish all of them the very best.

Over the years the Common Entrance Examination has been widely debated. There are those who argue it should be discontinued, while others feel they are no feasible alternatives.

Some of those who advocate a change propose that a system of continuous testing was a better standard to judge the ability of the student. On the other hand, the proponents of the 11-Plus make the point that this examination provides the right means of allocating and transitioning students from primary level to secondary level.

At this point, parents and guardians –– regardless of their views on the 11-Plus –– will have to abide by the system in place for their children. And this system, undoubtedly, over the years has created much anxiety and worry for most, if not all families who take the examinations seriously.

Making sure the child does well in the examination on that one day is the sole focus of many parents.
This attention starts as early as Class 1 in primary school and gets even more intense as the child progresses to Class 4. I know some parents who even start earlier than Class 1. Having been through this exercise twice before, I understand the anxieties, fears, concerns and a whole range of other emotions associated with this one examination.

I have also noticed the pressure that is placed on the young ones to do well, to perform at their best and to achieve that secondary school that many would consider a “top” one.  I suspect it is this pressure that causes many people to oppose the examination in its current format.

In recent years, there have been public service announcements encouraging parents and guardians how to be with their children who are sitting the examination.
I commend those officers who put out these announcements, as I am sure they help parents and guardians who may otherwise be carried away by the whole fervour of the exam.

Education is a right, and important to everyone.
For many it is the only means of getting ahead, and a way out of poverty. I am sure all parents want the best for their children and, especially with regards to education, will want their charges to do well and get ahead.

A parent who thinks otherwise is doing a grave injustice to his or her child.

Obviously, not every child is at the same level.
For some, learning just comes naturally, while for others a push is required. Both parent and teacher are key in ensuring the child’s success at his or her educational pursuits.

A child may be naturally gifted but not inclined to learn, while another may not be as gifted but very willing and eager to learn. Recognizing which category the child fits in from early is important for both the parent and teacher.

In the case of the 11-Plus Examination, one cannot wait until Class 4 to determine whether the child needs extra lessons or additional work to get him/her ready.
That assessment has to be done sooner; and so those who plan from Class 1 or earlier, and give the child the required and requisite attention, present a better chance for that child to do well at the examination.

For some children, additional lessons beyond the schoolwork may be required. This could be an economic challenge for some parents. I commend those in our society, teachers and others, who offer their expertise and time without charge to such students whose parents simply cannot afford extra lessons.

A balanced approach to learning is also highly recommended. It can’t only be all books, devoid of fun and play; nor can it be all fun and play without attention to work.

It is interesting to note in some cultures the focus on education and achieving high results is so strong that extreme pressure is placed on the student. I was directed some time ago to read about this phenomenon in South Korea. The following excerpts are from an article titled South Korean Education Ranks High, But It’s The Kids Who Pay:

In Korea, perhaps more so than anywhere else, educational success equals socio-economic status.
South Koreans view education as the main driver of social mobility, for themselves and their family . . . . Research has found the attitudes and strong beliefs of Asian parents make an important contribution to their children’s academic success . . . .

Education at all levels and particularly in science and engineering, is viewed as a key to upward mobility in the still highly stratified Korean society. As a consequence, a new phenomenon has emerged in recent years: Dwaeji Omma, or “Pig Mums”.

A Pig Mum does her research thoroughly and keeps her eyes on the ultimate target: a Korean Ivy-league university for her child and her “adopted” children (those belonging to her Pig Mum network); she plans every step of her kid’s educational journey and all the extracurricular (studying) activities, attends all the best schools’ open days, organizes strategic planning reunions, bullies, lobbies and even bribes private schools and private teachers to skip admission lines if necessary.

The intense pressure to succeed, no matter the cost, is taking its financial and social toll: as university places are limited, Koreans spend over $18 trillion won [BDS$40 billion], around 20 per cent of household income to pay for after-school private academies . . . . The conclusion of a 2013 study was that tiger parenting (strict parenting, often in Asian cultures) is less effective and more demanding than a supportive parenting environment.

South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide (28.9 per cent) in the OECD. South Korean novelist Young Ha Kim wrote in an op-ed that suicide is the “No.1 cause of death for people between the ages of ten and 30”.

Korea also ranks among the highest for household debt, depression, divorce, and alcohol consumption. It has been argued South Korean education produces overachieving students who pay a stiff price in health and happiness.”

It is these examples that must drive us to having a balanced approach to educating our children. Our children must want to achieve, but must also be happy along that road of getting the best results. It is our challenge as parents to find the right mix.

The Common Entrance Examination is one hurdle that each child in our society has to jump in their educational journey. Whatever the outcome of that jump, it is not the end of the journey, and so the child must be encouraged to press ahead regardless.

There are those who do exceptionally well at the exam and then struggle at the secondary level, while others just blossom after not doing so well at the primary level. 
So in this journey the child must be encouraged every step of the way, and no effort spared in giving the child the necessary tools and learning to help him or her along, making the best of whatever outcome.

Congratulations to all those teachers who worked hard and sacrificed their time and effort and went beyond the call of duty in preparing his or her students to face the 11-Plus Exam.

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. 

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