Saturday, June 7, 2008

Stop those scare tactics of "sure fail" exams

extracted from The Straits Times - June 6, 08

Many parents feel stressed when their children sit for high-stakes milestone exams like the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) or the O and A levels.

Many schools use shock scare tactics that are remarkably out of date. I'm talking about the habit of many schools to set mid-year examination papers of an unduly high difficulty level.

One parent cited her daughter's experience in an all-girls school with a Maths paper set at such a difficult level that half the class flunked. Concerned about the impact of this on students' motivation levels, she wrote: "I appeal to the Ministry of Education to compare the disparity between the simplicity of published primary Maths textbooks and worksheets with the difficulty of exam papers set by the schools.

Many schools set mid-year exam papers at an unrealistically high level of difficulty, deliberately to "jolt" the students and parents into a state of panic to work harder for the PSLE or O level exam. When the preliminary exams roll around later this year, the same pattern will repeat itself.

Thousands of students will be in tears over unwanted failing grades. Thousands of parents' stress levels will rise,fearing their children will do as badly in the PSLE or O levels, as they did for their prelims.

I am not a pedagogist, but it seems sheer bad educational practice to deliberately set an exam paper that seeks to fail most students.

That is not education; that is a psychological manipulation of a rather negative and perverse nature.

Schools justify it by saying that a little bit of failure spurs students to try harder. The practice results in better grades, they may argue. But people who argue forget the impact of repeated failure on a child's motivation and self esteem.

Some principals and teachers who use this "fail-them" exam scare tactic will point out that it has worked for years and raised the school's average scores in PSLE.

My retort to that is simple :

Your school's aggregate average may improve, but how many vulnerable children's self-esteem have you destroyed in the process?

And just as pertinently, how many children's zest for learning have you destroyed? And how many individual students end up doing worse, not better, because of anxiety and stress?

Fantastic article that totally captures the education scene here, a few days ago, someone wrote in the forum page that every kid "sure must have tuition" to catch up with the teacher/peers/education system.

Why are we so rigid on kids? As a tuition teacher myself, I know that both kids and parents are VERY stressed about getting good grades. I can write a whole blog post on this, perhaps another time.

I, myself, went through a lot of stress in my childhood - I always felt that I had to score good grades to be "recognised" to be "liked". I didn't like it. But now I feel like telling my students "Study hard, very hard now, then you can apply for a job at the Education Ministry and make big changes". hahaha

1 comment:

Hareega said...

it's always nice to leave the first comment on any blog
mention me in yoour 10th blog anniverasry