Kids, schools and exams

Yesterday’s Guardian online contained a gem of an article on the stress associated with the British school exam system, with this tag-line:

Our children are the most tested in the world, and schools are having to hire ever more counsellors to help them, reports education correspondent

Now what I loved about this article was the oblivious tone with which it presented the solutions of having more psychologists available to help the children, training school nurses to help with exam stress, and even turning towards holistic medicine. Not once did the article mention perhaps going to the source of the problem, and thinking about WHY it is that Britain’s children are “the most tested in the world” and whether it’s perhaps the system itself that’s broken.

The idea of being examined in the British style is pretty shocking for someone who came through the American education system. Even in America people fret about whether we are just training good test-takers with none of the skills needed to make it in the modern world. Extreme factions try to do away with grades and all measures of merit. I am not suggesting that this is the solution, but I do think the problems in the education system here in the UK are far, far worse than in the US. The students are being trained as solo test-takers and thus being deprived of the opportunity to learn the skills needed for, and the value of, teamwork. And now, apparently, the stress associated with training as a good test-taker is starting to trickle down and deprive children of their childhood. The Brits would benefit from some harsh self-examination on this subject of testing.


2 responses to “Kids, schools and exams

  1. Actually, I find even the idea that the British *are* the most tested in the world problematic… what about Asia? In China, South Korea, etc. students take exams that determine whether they get into Junior High, then High School, then trade school, then college, grad school, jobs… Do poorly on an exam when you are 12 years old and there goes your life… and because high school is neither compulsory nor guaranteed – and in CHina, there are no where near enough slots for all the kids – there is unbelievable pressure on the kids to do well on tests. Every year right around now the reports start flying of all the kids who commit suicide because they can’t handle the pressure.

  2. On the subject of blissful lack of self-awareness in newspaper writing, I once saw an issue of a major American newspaper with a prominently-featured article about the allegedly deeply mysterious rise in obesity on the front page. The back page (assembled by a different editor, presumably) contained a graph showing the rise in per-capita sugar consumption, pointing steeply upward. Hmmm.

    I, too, would question the veracity of the ‘most tested’ claim. As another expat in the UK, however, I have bemoaned that at least some university curricula seem to be geared towards absorbing a large amount of facts in a short time, creating pressure to teach to the exam. There also appears to be little if any continuous assessment and only limited variation in the instructional formats employed. To judge by the engrained habits of the (otherwise smart and motivated) university students, their secondary school experience may well have been similar. Much room for improvement, if anyone wishes to take this on!

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