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The unexamined student is not worth teaching

  • Published at 06:30 pm October 30th, 2018
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Test your memory Photo:MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Are exams really that important for our children?

So in today’s Bangladesh, it appears, schools are good at teaching kids how to pass exams. As if their mantra is “unexamined students are not worth teaching.” School authorities focus so much on taking tests that our children grow up believing that the purpose of education is not learning, but to pass tests. 

Allow me to present to you a genuine example. My five-year-old son is in a pre-school in Mirpur, Dhaka. His playgroup academic year is divided into five semesters. And at the end of each semester, there are assessment tests. Tests are carried out over four days on English, Bengali, mathematics, drawing, Islam, and general knowledge. 

What is interesting is that there is a day gap before the mathematics exam, to give the little boys and girls more time to prepare better. For nursery and kindergarten-going kids of that school, there are extra loads -- they have to sit for six tests where Islam is a lone subject. 

Normally, kids finish the test within half an hour. And that’s all for the day. You have to take your child home. And then a few days after, there comes the result day. On this day, no classes; you only go to the school to collect your child’s report card.     

Now, you do the calculations. Five assessment tests a year mean each semester term goes a week without classes. Thus, every academic year, kids lose a month in the name of so-called exams.  

The pre-school where my son goes to has only two-hour school day. Of course, I shouldn’t compare this private school with the ones in developed countries where kids spend more or less six hours every day.

In Singapore, last month, its Education Ministry announced that there would be no tests in the first and second grade starting next year, but pupils’ progress will be measured through worksheets, classwork, and homework. The ministry also announced that the mid-year exams would be removed in primary and high schools by 2021.   

Their aim is simple -- reduce the focus on exams and allow kids to love learning.  Needless to say, Singapore has one of the best school systems in the world (third in the global ranking). In South Korea, which is first in the ranking, kids sometimes attend school seven days a week.   

In Europe, Finland has the top comprehensive school system, where kids do not academically start school until they are seven. At six, children go to pre-schools which are referred to as kindergartens. These are basically half-day classes at a daycare centre. What do kids do there? They mostly play and spend time doing physical activity. 

Plus, these kids are taught to develop good social habits, like how to be fair, say sorry, respect others, and make friends.    

When more and more countries across the globe are scrapping exams, our country is going backward. Before the public school final examinations, our students have to sit for two more competitive public exams -- Primary School Certificate (PSC) and Junior School Certificate (JSC) exams. 

These public exams are good in one aspect -- they keep the economy running. More tests mean more coaching classes, more hefty income for schools and teachers, more notebooks flooding in the market. This is the way our children at an early age in Bangladesh realize the magnitude of exams in their lives. 

Suppose you are about to analyze a textbook poem to your primary school-going child, you shouldn’t be surprised hearing your kid’s remark, “I don’t need to learn this, it’s not coming in the exam.”  

Sadly, most parents in Bangladesh love this exam culture. They believe that the heavy pressure of exams forces students to learn and earn better grades. The absurd mores of our society reminds me of my grandmother. Every time she went to see a doctor, she returned with a sulky face. 

“What’s wrong?” I used to ask. She would tell me that the doctor was not good. Why? Because he neither prescribed her any test nor much medication.  

In the time of creeping Islamization in Bangladesh, there is another thing to worry about. Our public schools follow a combined curriculum set by the government, where religion is a compulsory subject from the third grade onward. But private schools, especially pre-schools, are at liberty to introduce it at earlier levels. 

Education, like many other things, has become a mushrooming business in Bangladesh. The inclusion of religion in the curriculum, no matter how young the children are, can make all the difference. This is done mainly to attract students, to persuade parents to send their wards to such schools. Ensuring proper education takes a back seat. 

And when the emphasis on exams has become a trend, learning is a lesser priority. 

Rahad Abir is a writer.