THE education ministry will today start distributing results of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to schools islandwide, following a delay caused by problems in the ministry's plan to make the results available on compact discs (CDs) for the first time.
Observer sources said the results of the exam, which will determine the high schools where the more than 54,000 primary and prep students who sat the exam in March are to be place in the new school year in September, had been ready for distribution for about two weeks.
But, according to our sources, the lack of up-to-date computer hardware and software at some schools caused the education ministry to postpone publication of the results.
Last night, the permanent secretary in the education ministry, Maria Jones, confirmed that there had been a delay in the issuing of the GSAT results, but said the electronic distribution of the scores would result in more comprehensive information of each candidate's performance being made available to the schools.
"Between Thursday and Friday they (the results) will be out," Jones told the Observer last night.
She, however, declined to elaborate on the cause of the delay, but said the process of preparing and disseminating the results has been enhanced significantly this year.
"In the past we would do the results in June, and not until September would the schools know all the individual scores of students," Jones said in a telephone interview. "This year when we did a CD which will have on everything; we have crunched three months of work into a shorter period, so a delay of an extra week or two is worth it," said the permanent secretary.
Last year, GSAT results were released on June 16.
In the meantime, the permanent secretary said paper copies of the results would be provided to schools unable to access the information on the CDs.
However, the education ministry has been criticised by the teachers' union for what it said was the failure to deal with the lack of modern computers in the island's primary schools, which would allow all to access the electronic version of the exam results.
"We should have done a dry-run using last year's GSAT data, and do research on the schools to determine their readiness to access this new paradigm," said Ruel Reid, the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association.
"It's very unfortunate that the ministry could not follow normal protocol that if you are going to implement a new system, particularly when it is technology-based, that you should have a pilot," Reid said yesterday.
In the meantime, a source told the Observer the problem was related to the fact that the results could only by uploaded to computers running the Windows XP operating system.
Some schools, the source said yesterday, have older machines that were unable to run Windows XP,
while other schools have no functioning computer at all.
The education ministry, Reid said, admitted at a meeting last week that it had no data on the number of schools that were ready to accept the results electronically.
Additionally, he said the results could not be printed at the ministry's six regional offices, because "the regional directors say they don't have the equipment nor the personnel to mass produce the results for the schools in their region".
But Jones dismissed the concerns of the JTA head. "We can tell you exactly which school has which computers...The JTA is speaking with the information they have, and it's not necessarily what the ministry has," said the permanent secretary.
In the meantime, Jones said there was a significant improvement in the GSAT scores this year. She was, however, unable to give details. "It has been reported to me that the results have been generally very good," said Jones.
The more than 54,000 children who sat the GSAT exam on March 30 and 31 were from more than 600 schools across the island.