AS DISCUSSION rages on in the public domain about the 2019 SEA, TTUTA brings into focus the issue of high-stakes testing and its short and long-term implications on the education system and the society in general.
Prior to the advent of universal secondary education, this examination, administered under different names over the decades, was used as a means of determining which children move onto secondary school and which ones were condemned to a life of intellectual imprisonment.
As the global agenda on education demanded that education from early childhood to secondary school is seen and treated as a right of every child and not a privilege, a significant milestone was achieved when our country was able to ensure there was a place in secondary school for all.
Thus the use of an examination to select students to move onto secondary school became obsolete and an exercise in redundancy, begging the question, “Why do we still have a primary exit exam?”
Owing to the evolution of a system of unequal schooling opportunity at the secondary level, the primary exit examination assumed new significance as a high-stakes test. The SEA is not now about determining which students get into secondary school; rather it is about the perpetuation of a two-tiered system of prestige and non-prestige schools.
Suddenly large publishers and other private commercial interests saw an opportunity to use this examination to make large profits through “private lessons” and related “practice test” and teaching materials. Even national newspapers got into the mix. It is now a multi-million-dollar industry – yes very high stakes, all at the expense of our innocent ten and 11-year-olds.
At the core of the issue is the fact that quality education is being sacrificed on the altar of private interests. Once driven by tests, education is narrowed in focus and scope. Teachers stop teaching children and begin to teach tests.
The performance of the teacher and the school is now determined by the performance of children on these tests and not by the extent to which the school can produce well-rounded citizens who are critical and innovative thinkers and problem-solvers and who can add value to their own lives and the lives of people around them.
These high-stakes tests only, at best, focus on the lowest learning domains, namely remembering, understanding and application. It cannot cater to the higher levels of learning where the child is taught to analyse, evaluate and create.
These learning domains cannot be assessed using these traditional tests like SEA, especially when one considers that the average human being has about 12 different intelligences. Learning at these levels, acknowledging such a wide range of intelligences, requires teaching that is more child-centred, where the realities of the child is a significant factor in the curriculum delivery process.
High-stakes tests therefore reduce education to the mere exercise of certification and not the process whereby the total human being is developed. The quality of our educators is also judged by this narrow concept of education under the disguise of accountability. Who benefits from the perpetuation of this status quo and what is the outcome of such a restricted approach to education?
A casual glance at our education system will reveal a most inconvenient truth. Our school system has been producing a society that sees nothing wrong with high officials engaging in corrupt practices at every level of governance (educated mercenaries) on the one hand, and on the other, people (petty criminals) who have no qualms about avenging their perceived marginalisation and disenfranchisement on others in the society via guns and knives. Multi-million-dollar corruption scandals and armed robberies are the order of the day – theft has become an accepted norm.
Quality teaching and learning cannot be judged by the use of these high-stakes tests like SEA. It dilutes education into a most robotic exercise and reduces it to mindless rote learning and regurgitation. Most importantly, it takes the fun out of both the teaching and learning experience.
It is inimical to the development of our total human capacity and it certainly does not facilitate the process of empowerment and sustainable development.
Its narrow scope and focus militate against the enlargement of choices and the understanding that we must ensure all citizens are entitled to a decent quality of life.
The post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda demands that education is available to all children in its broadest concept – all children can go to school and take advantage of the schooling opportunity, no matter their social circumstances. Equity and quality are not synonymous with high-stakes tests like SEA.