There is complete silence. That is, except for a few desperate whispers coming from the last benches. The only sound you can hear is the clock: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Random song lyrics prance around in your head as you try to remember the answer you had memorized just this morning. But your brain is foggy because you stayed up all night studying. You scramble to write a few more sentences as you hear the invigilator approaching. She snatches away your answer sheet just as you remember the answer. Sounds familiar? Of course, it does. We are all victims of the horror that were semester examinations.
A few months of nail-biting anxiety later, we’d get a piece of paper that sealed our fate. Or so we were taught to believe. Our timelines would be flooded with icons assuring us that a single piece of paper can’t decide our fate while at the same time, our parents fielded calls from long-lost relatives wanting to know our percentage up to the decimal.
There is so much anxiety involved around exams that several crazy superstitions have sprung up around it. In South Korea, students avoid washing their hair in the days leading up to exams as they believe they might ‘wash all the knowledge out.’ There’s always one auspicious food item whose sales go up come exam time, from giant roast pigs, kiwis, and seaweed soup in China to the humble spoon of curd in India. Students also tend to become devoutly religious whenever exams are around the corner. Remember the scene in 3 idiots movie, when students try to bribe God for better results.
Let’s Be Real, like REAL!
Let’s be real; we realized a long time ago that a perfect mark sheet and, subsequently, a conventional career is not the only path to success. We recognize all kinds of talent. Yet, we stick to the same method of assessing students – written exams. A written examination focuses on the student’s ability to memorize and reproduce facts, with little regard to its understanding or application. It has led to a rote learning culture, where students mindlessly parrot back points with little to no understanding of it. It also creates a divide between students, making them unwilling participants of a rat race where someone inevitably always gets left behind.
Knock – knock: Lessons from Finland, Are you interested?
Surprisingly enough, Finland, the country touted to have the best education system globally, does not have standardized tests at all. They start formal education at the age of 7 (instead, they are given Early Childhood Education and Care, which focuses on the health and well-being of the child), are rarely given homework, and yet continue to outperform the US, UK, and Germany in Maths, Science and Reading. They do not sit for nationalized tests until the age of 16; the assessment is based on the objectives set for the respective subjects. There is also a strong emphasis on self-assessment, which helps the students evaluate their growth and learning process. The Finnish system focuses on unlocking each child’s individual potential with care.
Even in countries like Japan and Hong Kong, students don’t take tests until the 4th or 5th grade. There is a strong belief that the first few years of education are not to judge the child’s knowledge or learning but for building character and teaching life skills.
The Future will reward… learning
Have you ever thought if learning & cramming information were altogether different? A rapidly expanding world brings complex problems with it, and to solve them, we need creative problem solvers who can go beyond the traditional route of thinking. This is only possible if students are taught, encouraged, and assessed on the practical application of concepts to real-life situations and celebrated for innovation and creativity rather than memorizing facts. Such a system would ensure that every child realizes their potential in the field of their liking. Moreover, a practical approach will make learning feel like play, putting an end to the snores echoed in lecture halls across the world.
We have all had that nerve-wracking nightmare where we end up in an examination hall unprepared. Or worse, prepared for the wrong subject! If it is the blockbuster star of your nightmares, it is safe to say that it does not belong in your education system. Isn’t it time for us to finally let go of the bi-annual trauma that is written examinations?