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Parents, give your children better support
Unlike many people who have disparaged it, I do like the idea of continuous assessment in education. Many people feel continuous assessment will only foster cheating, having parents and teachers do projects for students instead of merely helping or guiding them. The naysayers also insist that wealthy children will do better than poorer ones. I don’t know that I believe that to be true but it’s worth considering. In my opinion the key to making continuous assessment work is just the same as helping students do better in school overall: give children better support from parents, more encouragement, and more loving attention. In his book Outliers, journalist Malcolm Gladwell argues in favour of working-class US children spending more time in school, specifically over the long mid-year holidays. “For its poorest students, America doesn’t have a school problem,” Gladwell writes. “It has a summer-vacation problem.”
He bases his analysis on the fact that US children spend fewer days in school every year than Japanese and other Asian children, and that working-class children tend to have lower test scores after coming back from summer holidays than middle- and owning-class children. He says that working-class children are less likely to read and do educational activities during the holidays than children of richer parents, and though they all learn the same thing during school time, the richer ones retain their knowledge over the holidays through educational activities. Since the holidays are the gap, he suggests, close the gap with more school days. I don’t know that any similar study has been done here to find out, firstly, whether the long holidays affect our children’s learning and retention in any way, and secondly, whether family income has any bearing on academic performance—anecdotal evidence bears this out but you can’t analyse a country’s entire educational system based on anecdotal evidence alone. But using the anecdotal evidence, by and large—and this is what Gladwell talks about as well in Outliers—middle-class parents tend to support their children’s interests, give them access to extra educational resources, and make them do more than simply play video games and watch TV during the holidays.
I don’t actually believe that children need extra lessons during the holidays to succeed. I believe what they need is a bit more complex and nuanced than that. They need to have books to read and encouragement to read them. They need to have access to interesting play and leisure activities that will make them think. They need to be able to develop mundane skills like how to talk to adults, how to cook, how to keep their environment clean, how to manage their own time. This isn’t book knowledge, but as anyone who has ever lived away from home knows, they are vital bits of information for succeeding in the world. I don’t think endless school is the answer for improving children’s performance in school. I believe what is needed is better support from parents and guardians, more encouragement, and more attention, not more classes. And so, too, with continuous assessment. Continuous assessment calls for students who don’t simply put out one massive burst of effort at the end of the term or year to pass exams. It calls for regular engagement with work, for discipline to sit and do it, and for interest in the work that is being done.
The onus is on the child to develop these skills, but I know of few children who would be able to do this on their own. They need parents and teachers to help them do it. If continuous assessment really is implemented in T&T’s primary schools, replacing the dreaded and damaging SEA exam, it needn’t mean bad news for working-class children. But for this to be true, it must mean parents and guardians cannot hand off their children to schools and wash their hands of them, as many parents do now. Parents have to be engaged with their children, they have to take an interest in the children’s work, and they have to be disciplined about supervising these children who are doing projects at home. If this is too much to ask of parents, how can we ask it of our children?
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