A trying period for students
By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, July 1 2012
Some see it as a rite of passage. Others deem it as a time-honoured ritual.
Regardless of the connotation, graduations represent an inescapable transition from one phase of an individual’s life to another.
Last week, graduation ceremonies were held at secondary schools across the country and by this weekend, hundreds more students would have attended their school ceremonies and balls with much zest and pageantry.
But amidst the hype in getting that breathtaking gown or smart-looking suit to add to that once- in-a-lifetime experience, the question of whether students are adequately prepared to adapt to life in the next phase of their lives often arises?
Realistically, graduations are about change and hope. While they signal the beginning of an adventure into new experiences - tertiary education or entry into the world of work - graduations are often the culmination of a period many wished they would never have to forget.
The fact is, though, that while many students do make a seamless transition to life thereafter, others simply do not.
Giving a perspective on the issue, behaviour change consultant Franklyn Dolly suggested on Tuesday that about 60 percent of students who graduate from secondary schools usually adapt, while the remaining 40 percent fail to do so for various reasons, including the perception that high school students are expected to reach a level of academic and intellectual competence by the time they complete Fifth Form, possibly at age 16.
“Graduations, for most of us, maybe 60 percent of the population, is really a beautiful time, a celebration of what a student has been through,” he told Sunday Newsday.
“It symbolises that they have reached and celebrated their goal and are prepared for the next stage. Graduations are about completing one stage and moving on to the other and 60 percent of us can celebrate and move on really, really great.
“But 20 percent of us will be ambivalent and having been pushed to the next stage, we gradually get accustomed to the next stage and eventually we move on with life. Another 20 percent will stay in the stage of pre-graduation, however, moving on to the next stage without having graduated. These sometimes have problems for the rest of their lives if they do not receive counselling.”
According to Dolly, such problems are usually manifested during primary school, where the student may be brilliant but for some reason, did not attain his or her first choice in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination (formerly Common Entrance).
He said, “We think of the number of children in the primary school who reach the point of graduation. But when we look at some of the results, we ask ‘Why didn’t this child do well? This child was supposed to get his first choice, what happened in that exam?’”
One possible explanation, Dolly argued, was that the child deliberately “sabotaged him or herself from moving on to the next stage because they did not conceive themselves to be ready for the next stage.”
The other 20 percent of students, he said, may have also exhibited behaviours within the system which may be construed as problematic. He added that the vast majority of them probably never received the necessary counselling. Dolly, of the Maraval-based Dolly and Associates, said while some parents of ‘‘problem’’ children may have the resources to seek counselling, some may not. He also pointed to a direct link between unsavoury behaviour among students, low- performing schools and the crime situation.
“How could you really graduate from a primary school if you are in a low performing school? When they send you into a secondary school, they are sending you into a war zone and they want to know why the secondary schools are like battle zones ” he said.
The consultant made it clear that he was not blaming the teachers or the curriculum for the situation, but noted “there are things (behaviours) to understand what is happening.”
“The person is reluctant to graduate because they are really not ready, but the system is telling me I have to be ready because I have to reach the chronological 11, 12, or 13. They have got to go,” he said.
“This is a way for the person to protest in a way and they say ‘No,’ you have to go and they put you in a secondary school and it becomes a battle zone for the students because they cannot cope.
“And, therefore, if they cannot cope, through the need for self-preservation as a human being - survival, they find ways to survive. And the best way to survive is to hit somebody. These are the things, when we look at the deterioration of the society, that is what we are seeing.”
Generally speaking, Dolly told Sunday Newsday that the reality of moving from primary to secondary school can be traumatic for many students.
“Moving from primary school, you have the concept of being a big boy or girl in a small school and when you think of high school, you think of being a little boy or girl in a big school and that can be very traumatic. So to graduate says I am ready to move on to big school and be a small person and many of us have not been prepared for that kind of thing.”
It is for this reason that Dolly objects to the Ministry of Education’s decision to move the SEA from March to May.
“Schools, particularly the private schools, prepare the children for secondary school after the exam in March/April right down to July. So the graduation ceremony was just one part, because there was a whole process in terms of helping them to get ready for the next stage,” he said.
“So graduation was not just one item where you have a day and you put on a gown. It was a process and I am afraid that having it as late as May may not allow for that process.”
Counselling psychologist Daryl Joseph meanwhile said although he has never encountered students who have had difficulties adjusting to life after high school in his practice, the problem does occur and is cause for concern. However, he feels that students in Trinidad and Tobago are unprepared emotionally for life after high school, whether it be tertiary education or the world of work.
“I know that is always a challenge — the jump in the level of responsibility that youngsters have between Form Five level and either advanced or associate degree level or the working world. I don’t think our schools prepare students for that transition properly in terms of their developing that level of responsibility and maturity,” Joseph told Sunday Newsday.
He argued that for too long the focus has been on the academics and passing exams as opposed to a holistic approach to education.
“It is only because of the number of social issues that have come up over the last three years that some schools are now attempting to teach things like ethics and certain types of life skills. But in school, the emphasis is really on passing academic exams and our kids are not always prepared for the transition at all,” he said.
Reflecting on the nation’s watchwords: Discipline, Production, Tolerance, Joseph lamented that “we tend to watch the words more than anything else.”
He added, “We don’t really embody them in the way that we think, the way that we live and do things, and that is a real deficiency in the way our students prepare for the adult world. We do not have a well-defined set of ethics that are taught from small and used through primary and secondary school.”
Joseph, whose practice is located in Woodbrook, said in developed countries, much emphasis is placed on the all-round development of the youth through the requisite structures. Locally, he argued that the society had become too exam-oriented. “We get them (students) to pass exams and then drop them into the world of work or tertiary education and those who are strong and who have support will survive. All of that needs to be addressed. And unless something dramatic happens, those types of concerns will not take priority,” Joseph said.
Commenting on the situation, psychologist Laila Valere acknowledged that many parents assume their children can easily adapt to the period of transition graduations signify.
“They are not prepared to move on mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually for the various stages,” she said.
However, Valere believes that graduations provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn about change, both through their teachers and parents. This process, she said, will help the students throughout their lives.
“Change is a process and they have to understand that life is about change, that change is constant and it is an ongoing process for a period of separation in transition and growth,” she told Sunday Newsday.
“For one to benefit from change, one has to be able to go through the process of separating from what one is leaving behind. How they move into transition and manage that will determine whether the growth is a positive one. So they have to learn how to manage the stages of change — separation, transition and growth.” Valere said students must also understand the psychological process of change: that with every change process there is a stage of separation, where one has to give up something.
“The separation stage can be a very challenging thing, but how you go into a new period and how you manage that will determine how you go positively. Because that is where you have a lot of mixed emotions, because they lose something, maybe the security of their friends, their physical accommodation. They have to give up all those things that they were accustomed to,” she said.
Valere said students must also know that there are gains to be derived from embracing a new challenge.
“So they have to be taught both aspects - that they will be feeling sad but they will also feel happy that they are moving on and learning something new and developing.”
She said young people must also learn how to cultivate new relationships and to be open to learning new rules and regulations when they attend a new school. She said with every change there will be gains and losses.
Presenting another side to the debate, counselling psychologist, Anna Maria Mora, said while some students may lament having to leave their school after graduation, for others it might be a joyous occasion because high school, for them, “connotes all sorts of restrictions.”
Nevertheless, Mora, public relations officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP), regarded graduations as a ritual, saying it helped students to understand life. She noted, however, that the high expectations of many students often led to disappointment after the last dance on the night of the graduation ball.
Referring to students who have completed Fifth Form, Mora said: “Many of them look at life through rose-coloured glasses because they expect to do CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) or go out there looking for jobs.”
The reality, she said, is that many of them are often not able to fulfil their lofty ambitions, either through lack of finances or available job opportunities. Noting that thousands of students are about to leave school, Mora wondered about the fate of many of them since, unlike developed countries, “there is not real structure to absorb all of these young people.”
She said while some parents may be able to send their children abroad, the majority of them had to “stay back and fight the system.”
While some youngsters may enrol in On-The-Job training programmes, YTEPP (Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme) and MUST (Multi-Sector Skills Training Programme), Mora said many others may be forced to seek jobs after being told they have to assist financially in the home.