The philosophy of Queen’s College or nothing

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THERE are some in the Guyanese parental population who are wholeheartedly committed to the educational philosophy of Queen’s College or nothing. This dogma entails a constant and tyrannical reminder to students from the minute they enter a primary school that their results from the National Grade Six Assessment must produce Queen’s College, or their world would cease to exist. This demanding posture needs to be put under the microscope for examination; it is dangerous parenting.

Years of excruciating demands from age six to 12 can produce test anxiety; this condition can manifest itself in the midst of writing a major exam. Test anxiety turns good-thinking students into nervous wrecks, who can forget their knowledge and focus more on the consequences of failure during an exam. Dr Kathleen Smith explained: ‘They may also have experienced poor test performance in the past and worry about the incident repeating.’
Test anxiety is real and entails cognitive, emotional and physical symptoms. The philosophy of Queen’s College or ‘bust’ certainly provides a worthy case study for the negative effects of test anxiety. What this demonstrates is that parents are actually doing a disservice to their kids by being supremely demanding; there has to be a delicate parental balancing act between demanding the best and reassuring love and support in times of the worst. Exerting pressure on students to do well is nothing new and it is not restricted to the Guyana context: a study at John Hopkins University in California revealed that 92% of parents felt it was important for their children to excel in school, while 39% of students felt there was too much pressure on them.

The National Grade Six Assessment is completed by an average of 14,000 students vying for entrance into various secondary schools across Guyana with most under the duress of parental watch, laser-focused on QC. The policy of the Ministry of Education stipulates that once you are below 480 marks, you are placed according to your home address. This policy proceeds from the assumption that once you provide equal material and human resources to all secondary schools, they should all be on the same level and once students are placed at area schools, there should be no issues. Parents have completely rejected area placements and this policy feeds into the hot pursuit for Queen’s College and the possibility of getting Bishop’s High School, St. Stanislaus, St Rose’s High, St Joseph High or President’s College. This pursuance is fraught with emotional, psychological and physical sacrifice: late-night extra lessons for parents and students, spending wanton sums on education materials and more.

What drives this passion and fervour? Queen’s College takes the priority cake due to its tradition of academic excellence, producing Presidents and Guyanese scholars of international renown. When this institution was started by Bishop Austin in 1844, the name immediately carried an elitist echo; anything associated with the Queen was considered aristocratic. Over the years, this institution carried the tag of being a place for the Guyanese upper class, ironically, Forbes Burnham, Dr Cheddi Jagan and Dr Walter Rodney who attended QC sought to tear down class divisions and remain forever etched in our history as fighters for the poor and downtrodden. The point being made here is to document that the entire Guyanese society is responsible for the emergence of the philosophy of Queen’s College or nothing, not just the parents who always, innately,will request the best for their kids. There is visceral reaction of respect that emanates from the average Guyanese when the name Queen’s College is mentioned; employers are more likely to hire someone who has attended this institution and there is much prestige that surrounds reginae collegium. This feeds into the frenzy and gives sustenance to this philosophy.

The folly of this mad rush is laid bare when one considers the fact that there are numerous secondary schools that have produced some of Guyana’s most internationally recognised and prominent citizens such as Clive Lloyd, former West Indies captain and one of the Caribbean’s most exemplary leaders attended Chatham High School; Dr Mohammed Shahabuddeen, who attended JC. Chandisingh Secondary School, rose to international jurisprudence eminence by serving on the World Court and becoming Vice-president of the Yugoslavia Tribunal and former President Hugh Desmond Hoyte, regarded as one of Guyana’s finest Presidents, attended Progressive High School. Further, the National Grade Six Assessment is a two-day event; it is almost a one-shot opportunity for students who may be subject to a myriad of variables that may negatively affect their performance on that day; it cannot tell the complete aptitude story. Therefore, it is folly for parents and teachers to present a doomsday academic scenario to students who do not attain above 500 marks to attend QC.

The aforementioned argumentation has not been submitted to denigrate the unparalleled achievements of one of Guyana’s premier institutions of learning; as a former student of Queen’s College, the writer cannot be accused of this. This serves to highlight the wholly nonsensical basis for the philosophy of Queen’s College or nothing.