SEA results are not everything

Better minds better living with Dr. Yansie Rolston Monday, July 10 2017

WEDNESDAY was a day of great jubilation for some families and in equal measure it was also a day of sadness and emotional distress. The media were full of stories and photos of successful SEA students, but for some families it was not a time of happiness, delight, pride and jubilation, and the following day the Minister of Education Anthony Garcia disclosed that 2,170 students had scored below 30 per cent in the exam.

There is nothing wrong with proudly celebrating academic successes, but what does the continued focus of those deemed to be successful do for those who may have tried their very best but simply do not have the cognitive capacity or motivation for academic studies or even have the same long-term aspirations. In case you have forgotten let me remind you of the newspaper headline of June 8 – “Over 400 students are on suicide watch across primary and secondary schools”. This news story sparked a lot of shock and concern amongst the population, and though there are a myriad of reasons for the increase in depression and suicide in young people, the point is that the importance placed on exam success and doing well academically is a contributor to their diminishing emotional and mental health which should not be ignored.

There have been many studies done on the matter of stress and anxiety in academic studies starting as far back as 1914 and research estimates that approximately 20 per cent of under-18s have experienced depression or anxiety (Costello et al 2003) and that suicidal thoughts are common amongst young people. Yet the unhealthy social phenomenon which perpetrates the notion that exam success defines you as a person continues.

Even the terminology used in discussing the SEA results has the potential to contribute to students’ stress, for example the emphasis on “passing” for their first choice which alludes that not doing so somehow equates to “failing”.

But, the reality is that there is so much more to the nation’s youngsters and they need to be reassured that the SEA results are not everything. There is no denying the importance of a well-rounded secondary school education that focuses on academics as well as life skills, and all youngsters should be encouraged to excel to the best of their ability. However, a one-dimensional approach that ignores the impact of variables and life consequences such as health, socio-economics, environment, parental education, geographic location is a problematic one that does more harm than good. Subliminally, the message received by many youngsters – whether intentional or not, is that a perceived lack of success at SEA means that friends and family are not proud of them and that they are doomed to a second- rate life.

Many youngsters are faced with an overwhelming plethora of challenges which can affect their academic achievements such as bullying, death and loss, physical or mental illnesses or both, abuse, addiction, fears/ phobias, problems at school. In addition which, during adolescent they begin to produce hormones that causes the changes of puberty and the onset of sexual and relationship desires so when those are compounded by the worry about exams, parental pressures, and unrealistic expectations it is no surprise that there is such a high number of them on suicide watch. Another point in relation to the SEA results is around safeguarding, and I question the necessity for publishing the results in the newspapers in an era when most people have smart phones and communication is much easier.

I was made aware of a survivor of domestic violence who is currently living in a refuge and has a restraining order against her estranged husband who feels that her safety and that of her child have been compromised because he is now able to figure out their general whereabouts using the information published. Maybe it’s about time for this practice to be reconsidered.

Finally, I’d like to share a situation that has always stayed with me. During a class discussion, one of my fellow students was asked about his career aspirations and he replied that he wanted to be a refuse collector.

The entire class including the teacher erupted into raucous laughter, however, truth be told, he was aware of his limitations and had set himself an achievable personal goal. Needless to say he has had the last laugh because he went on to become the owner of a lucrative cleaning company.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK-based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society. Contact her at yr@ efficacyeva.com

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