Are exams the best way to help children develop?
This is a big question. I find that exams based assessment of a child’s development results in a narrow focus and thus, inadequately prepares the child for the challenges they will face many years later in life.
Exams based assessment – whilst are objective – only emphasises (i) academic knowledge; (ii) enforces rote learning; (iii) creates behaviours of studying (self learning) only for the exams.
The above 3 emphasis are becoming increasingly inadequate these days.
For one, academic knowledge is no longer sufficient. What is important is that children start to explore learning outside of what is covered in text books. The world today is moving so quickly that knowledge nowadays is everywhere.
Secondly, rote learning does not help children develop the skills to learn on their own, or to learn through discovery and experimentation. Rote learning emphasises that the answer is pre-determined.
Thirdly, learning should be a constant habit – and not something only needed for the purpose of passing exams. This constant learning habit is highly prized when the individual progresses through life when things are constantly changing requiring a constant unlearning and relearning.
So what is the alternative to measuring a child’s development?
In the first place, we need to ask why we are measuring a child’s knowledge etc? The goal of measuring a child’s progress is to identify areas the child is strong at and areas the child can be further developed.
Assessment of children’s progress should not be seen as a means to “rate” or “grade” them. It is more important to develop children than to grade them.
Once we have properly adopted this mindset, then we can move forward with the alternative assessment. But before we go into that, we need to also understand what are the qualities on which we wish to develop our children?
Some initial thoughts on the qualities we seek in children, and later as adults:
- academic (of course)
- attitudes & behaviours
- values & goals
- communication, collaboration, interaction
- physical health – sports, outdoor activities
- empathy – emotional & spiritual quotient
- intellectual capacity – thinking, critique
- action & discipline
- creativity, innovation & art
Of course, the above list may not be entirely appropriate and may even miss out other qualities. But what is important, it needs to encapsulate the many qualities we seek as people as they grow older and attempt to make the world better.
The even bigger question now is how do we measure the child’s progress in the above qualities.
Remember, the measures are meant to identify strengths and development areas. Not to rate or grade.
There are already many psychometric & other tools to measure these qualities. We only need to use them on a more regular basis through the child’s progress through school to understand more about their development.
These tools can be utilised by both teacher and parents alike in order to gain a more balanced view of the child’s development.
Avoid gaming the system
Since, this assessment is not for purpose of rating or grading the child – it will mitigate the effects of “gaming the system”. In order to enhance the credibility of the assessment tools, we can build in self-regulating mechanisms to prevent a deliberate high or low score.
What is most important is that the child makes as much progress in their development: a high score on an assessment may mean that the child need not undergo specific tasks to develop further. A constant high score means that the child has a low record number of development / improvement exercises – which could look less impressive as compared to a child who is consistently improving.
Conversely, a deliberately low scoring may mean that the child will have to undergo a rigourous number of development / improvement exercises. Which could be both taxing on the child and the tutor.
I know this system is not perfect, but it is a starting point in building a self-regulating mechanism to prevent the child, the tutor and the parents from gaming the system.
To add further mitigation – external parties may be called into assess the child further using these tools (or a variation of the tools). The tools need not require a constant intimacy with the child, but can be assessed on the spot like many psychometric tests.
Other forms of assessment can be done in a similar manner of how role-playing games (“RPG”) players acquire experience points (“XP”) to upgrade their RPG characters. These can be related to the child completing certain academic and non-academic tasks. Points, badges and recognition can be given to demonstration of certain activities, behaviours etc – such as teamwork, leadership etc.
To achieve the above, technology can be used to document, record, and provide an updated scoring system as the child progresses. Now with mobile technology, these form of scoring can be done on the move and at the right moment the tasks have been completed by the child.
Training the tutors & developing the infrastructure
There will naturally be major changes to the tutors and infrastructure for this to happen. Therefore this will not happen overnight. Investment will be needed, incentives can be provided to the private sector to participate in driving the change by providing some of their resources – financial as well as human capital.
The tools are perhaps the items of least concern as many of these are already available.
Training can be quite minimal, as many of the tools come with its own diagnosis. However, should training be required – there are a large number of organisations that have employees trained in these tools. They can be roped in.
Implementation and moving forward
This post was not meant to be an answer, nor would it be correct. The goal is to initiate a discussion around this important topic. After all, education is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) economic multiplier.
The key thing for all of us is to start looking at our education systems and ask ourselves the question whether it is helping us develop more leaders, thinkers, doers and creators for the fast changing 21st century connected and borderless world?
Start with the qualities of people we want in our economy now and many years ahead – and then work backwards to design an education system that meets those needs.