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Old Friday, August 28, 2015
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Default Exam results do not determine a student's worth

Exam results do not determine a student's worth

Every year, I go through this: celebrations and bereavement in parallel. This year too, the CIE result day saw my Facebook timeline flushed with posts by my students — the ones who had scored well in their examinations.

So one-sided was the picture being painted that my friends thought every one of my students had scored ‘A’ and ‘A*’ grades only. For the teacher and parents, those wonderful letters on A-4 sized cream-coloured paper sheets, call for celebrations. And rightly so.

But what about the students who hadn't posted their results?

I waited the whole day for those who were guarding themselves from the judgement of adults, and had decided not to share their results publicly. Eventually, late at night, the ‘B’ graders and below, inboxed me their results quietly.

They thought they deserved the humiliation and taunts they were getting from their relatives and friends respectively.

Also read: Tales of A, A* and unwanted grades

Let us analyse a few things. In any society, roughly 70 to 80 per cent of the human resources that come under the definition of skilled workers belong to people who had performed average and below average in high stake examinations.

This manpower excels in every part of life. They are fighters; they learn to perform even with the few options that society limits them to, as a consequence of the traditional model of education (e.g. how a high school student, who is unable to perform on any examination day will not be admitted into a top-notch college, and may not go on to get the ‘best’ job as predicated by the society’s standards).

Ironically, adults who humiliate and disrespect these “low-achievers” themselves mostly belong to the same class.

Over the centuries, we have developed the machinery for mass education, but the schooling model needs to be revamped now. In many parts of the world, it works exactly like a machine, run by heartless operators looking to churn out 'certified' students for parents on a conveyor belt. After the Industrial Revolution, there was surge in the demand for these 'products', and the demand still outstrips supply.

The big question is, at what cost?

At the cost of the several lives in Japan, where students committed suicides over bad grades? At the cost of forcing all the brilliant minds who couldn’t perform well on exam day?

The problem is not in the transcript but in the understanding of the transcript, or in other words, its misinformed glorification.

See: 47 As in O, A levels: Pakistani student beats world record

Most people misinterpret what these grades mean. They don’t realise that these grades are just one snapshot of a whole process of learning, a multi-dimensional and unending one.

In fact, examination boards must provide a complete rubric for the parents that should interpret grades in layman language to minimise the intensity of misery faced by low achievers.

Starting from their very first exams, we, the adults, start panicking them; dragging the harassed students into a ghostly death valley where they go not for exploration but to survive a nerve-wrecking rat race. Those who successfully survive are recognised, while the others are casually dismissed. thrown in the trash bin. My worry is about these “others”.

What did we do with them? We started restricting their options to grow and excel since the first snapshot.

Teachers celebrate the fine products and dismiss the “others” as worthless. The cruelty is magnified when, instead of providing the opportunity for them to improve, we just push them to the next level of misery.

With emotional setbacks they strive, with taunts they live, with hatred they survive and then they enter in to practical life with possibly damaged personalities. In developing countries, this misery is even more intense.

Top listed education models, such as the one in Finland, do not emphasise on these tests and their results, but focus on providing equal opportunities for diverse learners. They factor in that every individual learner comes from a different background with different motivation levels, learning styles and needs to be treated in a differentiated environment. Being a developing country, this understanding still needs to grow in Pakistan.

Read on: Advice: Say goodbye to exam phobia!

We need to realise that these discarded “others” are what, in fact, form the major portion of our nation-building resources. These students are neither blank slates nor raw material for our machine. In fact, we don’t need machines; we don’t need to chop intellect if it doesn’t match with the frame of the machine.

We need to transform, gradually. Ken Robinson says rightly that the need is not to reform education but to transform it.

Education must be organic, not mechanical. It must be organic if one intends to teach to humans. Schools should be like educational greenhouses which provide the right climate and temperature for learning to grow like plants. We don’t need factories manufacturing brains but merely the right, nurturing environments.

Examinations are not education but merely a part of it. We, the adults, have no right to use these transcripts as lethal weapons; mind it, a single word may make or break a person.

Let us allow our children to explore this world on their own terms, and let them add their own meaning to our understanding of it.

Source: Exam results do not determine a student's worth by UMAIR QURESHI
AUG 22, 2015
Umair Qureshi is Physics teacher at the Beaconhouse School System.
He works as social reformer to shift the paradigm from aimless literacy to meaningful transfer.
The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion !
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