Placement of children into secondary schools impacts their psychosocial well-being

- Research finds


By Vishani Ragobeer

The placement of children into secondary schools based on their academic performance at the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) may have an adverse impact on students’ self-esteem, engagement, expectations for their future and interest in school, according to research conducted by Postgraduate Psychology Researcher, Charlotte Shaw.

Shaw, who has been living in Guyana for a few years, has studied the psychosocial well-being of 193 students in List A, B, C and D schools; the List A schools are those ‘top’ schools where the higher-ranked NGSA performers are awarded a place at, while the List B, C and D schools are the schools ranked in descending order.

During an interview with the News Room, Shaw related that her research showed that students in the List B, C and D schools would be better off if they were grouped in a mixed ability school. Such a mixed ability school would include students of various academic competencies, instead of students who received the same set of marks at the NGSA as is currently done.

“Researchers have looked into what you can do within the system (of streaming students based on their academic performance) … and they’ve found that there is not much that you can do other than trying to instill a culture of cooperativeness rather than competitiveness within the school,” Shaw told the News Room.

Postgraduate Psychology Researcher, Charlotte Shaw

As such, she related that there is a body of research that supports the elimination of selective education which, in Guyana, manifests as the NGSA and the placement of students in schools based on their academic performance.

According to research conducted in Barbados in 2018 on the same topic, there is a need to shift from selective education to a comprehensive secondary system.

“This will involve abolishing selection for secondary schooling at around age 11 years and having in place school zoning that enables students to attend secondary schools nearest to their homes,” the research, conducted by Marcia Pilgrim, Garry Hornby and Tara Inniss, concluded.

Shaw contended that the suggestion of students attending secondary schools nearest to them instead of schools that match their academic competency at the NGSA would foster a more egalitarian schooling system.

“It’s not that hard if you consider that the schools are already there. Every neighbourhood has a school, almost, so it is just about changing people’s mindset about that school and ensuring that all schools have the same facilities and the same funding,” she said.

Just last week, Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand alluded to the possible elimination of the NGSA in future due to cognisance of the pressures placed on young children to perform well. Instead, she suggested that greater focus should be placed on ensuring an equal delivery of education at all schools.

Shaw welcomed the minister’s suggestions and related that the inequalities across schools are evident. As such, she underscored that action is required.


Interestingly, Shaw’s research also found that students in the List A school- that is, the top secondary schools where those with the higher marks at the NGSA are awarded a place – had the lowest psychosocial well-being.

Explaining what this means, Shaw said, “What happens is that students who are clever, when they are in their regular primary school, which is filled with mixed ability students, they are the big fish in the little pond. Then, when they sit [the NGSA] and they get placed in an ‘A’ school, all of a sudden, they are a little fish in a big pond and this has an impact on their psychosocial well-being.

“It has been shown that their self-esteem plummets, they have low student engagement, they lose interest in school and their expectations for their future lowers.”

This ‘big fish, little pond’ effect is something that has been studied by many researchers, according to Shaw. She indicated that the effect has long-lasting implications for students. Considering the impact of streaming children into schools based on their academic performance, Shaw advocated for a review of the current placement system in the best interest of all students.

When asked by the News Room, recently, if the ministry would consider abolishing the NGSA, Minister Manickchand answered: “We are looking at ways that we can be friendly to children even as we keep the formal education system going.”

She added, “Testing children on one single day and having their future decided on that day when they are 10 years old is hard and it might not be the most child-friendly thing that we can do.”

The Education Minister did not wish to make any pronouncements on what the NGSA would be replaced with if it is indeed stopped, but she noted that this decision would only be made after wide consultations.

Shaw’s research was published in 2020, in the Caribbean Journal of Education. This study on selective education in Guyana was done by Shaw and two other researchers: Janelle Levesque and Katrina McKie.

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