Still in ‘exam season’. I bet that exam students didn’t even notice that they were on Easter break. Between extra lessons, practice exams, revision, study groups and cramming, no-one got any rest, let alone had any fun at all this Easter. What do most people think education is? In our system, it has become passing exams and getting another certificate. Now that we have ‘graduations’ even at preschool level and entry tests for primary school, it seems that the education rat race starts earlier and earlier. Parents have certainly leapt on the education bandwagon, with the best intentions in the world, I hasten to add. Having been trained by the brutal Common Entrance, now SEA, system, Trinbago parents know how to do exams. They understand the preparation which begins several years in advance, the many hours and days of extra lessons, the staying up late, the getting up early and the relentless drilling. The trouble is, both parents and students have come to believe that this is education. Whether you have actually learnt anything or retained anything is no longer the point, the goal is just to get that certificate, by any means available. Can you apply the knowledge afterwards? Do you understand the workplace and how to get a job done? Can you move from cramming for exams to taking initiative, working on a team and functioning independently? None of this is relevant in exam season, when it’s all about passing, getting into the top 100, getting through.
Passing exams isn’t education, except where the exam is a rigorous test of applied knowledge, and most exams aren’t like that. Having exams as part of the education system is all right, but where the exam is the only measure of knowledge, things become problematic. Consider this: someone who spends five years in secondary school has nothing to show for those years if s/he doesn’t have CXC passes. And the popular belief is that if your child doesn’t get into a ‘prestige’ school at SEA, then s/he won’t amount to anything academically. These factors account for parents’ single-minded determination to get their children through exams at any cost. The point of education is to master the material taught, become extremely familiar and comfortable with it and be able to apply it to real-world situations, from different perspectives. Once the student has reached that point, s/he should be able to pass any exam on the subject and that should be the aim of teaching. If a student has to do endless extra lessons, study constantly, do without sleep and drill, drill, drill, then either the exam is unrealistic or the student is just not ready. That kind of intensive preparation is not required to pass an exam. If you doubt me, think back 30 years, to Ordinary and Advanced Level exams. At that time, extra lessons were virtually unheard of. You only went to those if for some reason you lost a teacher for one of your subjects and there was no replacement. Has the pass rate increased significantly since the extra lessons industry began going strong? The only reason for harder work now is that, at least at CAPE level, the curriculum is more crammed. Have the SEA average scores increased? It doesn’t seem so. In fact, there are those who would say that the average scores have actually decreased. There are those at one extreme who score in the top five percent, then those at the other end in the bottom five percent. In between these extremes, however, the average may actually be sinking slowly. Certainly, the exam now includes areas which weren’t there originally, such as the creative writing component. But it definitely doesn’t seem as if all the ‘extra lessons’ are helping children to achieve higher standards.