The perils of a Darwinian educational system
This time of the year students and teachers take a well-deserved break ahead of a new scholastic year. However, for students who for some reason or another fail to reach their targets or meet expectations, this is a completely different story. Apart from the disappointment brought about by the annual results, they could face a further ordeal as they might have to spend the hot summer months doing revision work either to catch up or to have a second chance in the resit.
The solution is not to abolish exams or testing. Whoever thinks that taking such route would create a stress-free educational system would be only fooling themselves and others. Sooner or later we will all be put to the test in some form of another. Education is also about handling pressure and learning how to tackle challenges. Hence, if an educational system is devoid of some sort of evaluation or testing mechanism, students would find themselves in hot water at their place of work or even in their personal life. As long as exams are a means to an end – to verify the level of competence in a subject or a set of skills – and not a means to select in Darwinian fashion, there is nothing wrong. However, any successful examination system must come part and parcel with sound feedback. It is pointless telling students who failed their exams to study harder, especially those who genuinely gave their utmost. Unfortunately, in our system there is very little follow-up once schools close their doors. Though there are revision classes in summer, adopting a one-size fits all approach has its limitations. In many cases, it is much more productive to go over an exam paper with students and highlight those areas in which they came up short, rather than spend long hours covering content which they would have already mastered. To their credit many teachers are very forthcoming to help students during the summer months. While revision classes are a commendable move to support students who failed to master basic concepts, in many cases the solution should not be so drastic. Many a time having some feedback in the form of a one-to-one session of not more than an hour can be much more productive.
This approach should not be limited only to obligatory education. Unfortunately, in post-secondary and tertiary education we need to look further than the number of entrants. For some reason a significant number drop out at in due course. While some may be tempted to seek greener pastures along the way, others do not make it past the first year. Standards should not be compromised but support to those who did not make it but have potential to succeed should be forthcoming. Ultimately, any educational system is there to open up opportunities and horizons. If on the other hand our schools and educational institutions are geared towards the survival of the fittest, the losers are not only those who fail to make the cut but the entire nation.