Examination Time

8 Dec

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NCEA is over and we have just concluded the examination season. Phew.  Do teachers really need contrived, formal examinations at the end of a full school year in order to make a professional judgment – should one be required – on their students? We are also talking at our school about the purpose of junior exams. What is the point?

What were exams originally introduced for? If we are honest, it was to sort the elite minority into elite, selective institutions in order to perpetuate a hierarchy in which wealth, knowledge, and possibilities were exclusively defined, controlled, and limited.

Society has certainly changed this we know. Technology has transformed the possibilities for learning and the opportunities for our young people. We are challenged with the reality of inevitable, unknown challenges and known global crises that are not going to go away with a bombing campaign or populist piece of legislation. We know that all people have the capacity to learn. We recognise that the elite selection process throws – along with the brilliant and truly bright – some of the most banal and incompetent into positions of power and influence. Knowledge is cheap today and access is virtually unlimited; the ability to create transcends the old order and requires real talent. Yet the exam system remains largely the same.

Imagine an educational system in which we based our understanding of student potential and achievement upon individual interests and passions, developed and nurtured throughout the years of schooling. This is what most teachers instinctively seek to do. Imagine, then, how amazing schools could be without the false conventions of examinations and tests that are philosophically at variance with all that we know about learning and humanity. The fact is, we know that we don’t need examinations for students to get into good colleges and we don’t even need good colleges to learn and be successful, so why is this absurdity still the unchallenged tail that wags the dog of our school systems?

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