Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why exams are a GOOD Idea..

Exams are dead. Long live the Exams.

When one sees what we are doing to the “exam system” – one can only think of this:
  • An idea is not responsible for its abuse.
  • It is not the thief who is punished, but the one that gets caught.

I will divide this post into 2 sections. In the first, the advantages of exams as an idea. In the second, lets talk about the things that we are doing wrong, and the exams get blamed.

Part I: Why exams are good
1. Exams instill a sense of achievement that is absolute. They are not relative. In the grading system, it is all relative to the performance of others. Which means that the need to sabotage the performance of others is inbuilt into the system. Further, the reward for sabotaging the performance of even one more student, is high enough to be tempting. Goodbye collaborative studies. I do not want anyone to know how much I know. Goodbye to Maggies shared in overnight study sessions.

2. Exams make us get close to our books in a way few other things can.

3. Year end exams force us to remember a wide variety of subjects, over a huge curriculum. And Viola! We can do it too!! At that age, when the brain is still learning fast, children and young people need a wide variety of subjects, and a certain progression of challenges. That is what is provided by quarterly, half yearly and annual exams.

4. More than anything else, exams taught us to handle pressure and to come out unscathed. The achievent was not so much in topping exams as it was in getting through them.. we always knew we'll make it, of course, but the sheer sense of achievement and celebration that gave us. Later, when we were preparing for other, more difficult pressure situations, both academically and in life, it helped to have experience.

Part II: Things that we do wrong, and the exams get blamed.
1. Rote Learning.
We force our children to rote learn so they do better in exams. We forget to tell them to understand what is written in the book, and then not memorise. I had an aunt who made me do that. She forced me to read the chapter and understand what was written. The reward was tempting too – do this and you will never have to memorise a thing. You don’t have to memorise something you understand.
For us, homework takes priority over everything else. My aunt wrote in my homework book (no kidding, she actually did that):
“Writing all these answers will leave her with no time to read and understand the chapter. I am making her do that. Tomorrow, you can ask her the questions in class, and let me know if she doesn’t manage.”
The teacher understood.
How many of us force our children to take that long winded path through understanding? The short cut through guide books, model papers and tuitions is so much simpler.
Just for the record, I have never had to spend time or money on a single guide book. Not once.

2. Constant Comparison. The need to do better than the others does not come from the exam system. As mentioned above, the exam system does not even compare one child to another. We do that. It comes from homes of parents who want to believe they have given birth to Superman merged with Barbie. We are the ones comparing even more than the children themselves.
When there is a suicide of a student, the cause is perhaps the level of acceptance and expectation in the circle of the child, NOT the exams by themselves. Changing it to grade will not change the level of expectations.

3. Inability to share the learning experience. Remember the time when you would learn and your mother would ask you questions thereafter? When your mother would make your model paper for you? When your father would come home and check your report card and discuss it with you? In those days, parents shared the learning experience with the child. Their studies got revised as they constantly complained “What he is doing in Class 4, we never touched till Class 7.” Hear those complaints any more ? I don’t. Parents and children are talking a lot more, but its not in the language of a shared learning experience. And its not just about books. If the child goes dancing, parents drop them and pick them up, but they don’t practice the moves with their children. This means that , as parents, we do not know what the child is expected to learn, and how s/he is doing it.

4. Higher Teacher – Student ratios. There are just so many more children! Teachers were always a harried and underpaid class of professionals, but the current ratios are incredible. Add to that the advances in course content and we have a potboiler! We just need fewer kids in schools. For which, we just need to have fewer kids around. Does no one find it disgusting that we have the youngest population in the world – meaning that in the last 25 years, we have bred with a vengeance. As soon as the government stopped talking “Population control” , we started creating the population. STOP. NOW. Exams are not responsible for creating herds where clutches alone can be sustained.

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