In your hands

My life as a teacher of English and other curiosities

Exams and why we must revolt

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It’s June. For people without kids it’s the time the weather gets better and they can start hitting the beaches of their countries. Or those of their neighbours’. For those with kids under the age of 8 or 9 (depending where you leave) it’s still a good time, enjoy it while you can good people. For the rest of us with kids between the ages of 8 and 22 (depending where you live) it’s that time of the year again. Yeap, it’s exam time. If you come from a country like Greece you have probably been conditioned to talk on the first person plural when it comes to exams: “We have an exam in Ancient Greek tomorrow, so we can’t join you to the beach, sorry”. Even if you aren’t such a helicopter parent, you probably worry about how your children are doing. It is possible also that you like me are fed up with seeing them learn useless things. You may have hired private help to tutor your kids, or may be spending hours helping them to revise for the exams. Whatever is the way you approach this in your family, I am pretty sure you think there is something genuinely wrong with the system.

The last few days, I have been seeing various posts from friends and fellow educators in my timelines. One of them still resonates with me after a few days. He was saying: “marks (at school) can say nothing about a child’s effort, critical thinking, cooperation, curiosity, respect, politeness, ability to love, emotional and social intelligence, honesty and so much more…”  At first sight it seems like a parent’s gentle complaint that his child is not seen as a whole human being at school. But I think the problem goes deeper than that and we parents/educators have a hard time balancing our roles. On the one hand we have to help our kids excel at a system which is far from ideal. And as educators we understand that the system is so outdated, so distorted, so not preparing our kids and our students for tomorrow’s world that sometimes you feel like banging your head on the wall.

At least there are people out there who feel the same and they are encouraging us to do something, to not keep quiet. To scream instead of banging our heads. To talk to our colleagues, to our children’s school directors, to other parents, to our kids, to our students. One such person is Will Richardson. I know Will from twitter and has been following him and his education tweets for years. Two days ago I bought his short book Why School? and I was fascinated with it. I have highlighted big parts of it and at every page, I was thinking, this makes so much sense. Will explains very clearly how insufficient the work that is happening in schools right now is in preparing students for a future world. Things you may have heard from Ken Robinson or Clay Shirky or even John Dewey are summarized in a really lucid way so that I strongly recommend this essay to all educators and policy makers out there.


The following extract is the one I originally shared on Facebook and it seemed that many people found it relevant: “ The important irony is that test scores tell us little, if anything about our children’s preparedness for future success in a fast-changing world. A recent IBM survey of CEOs asked them to name the most crucial factor for future success, and their answers had nothing to do with state assessments, SAT scores, or ven Advanced Placement Tests. Instead they cited creativity and “managing the growing complexity of the world”. I can’t find a state or local test currently in use that captures our kids’ mastery in those two areas. You?”

Another extract ”Connecting and learning with other people online, distinguishing good information from bad, creating and sharing important works with the world: None of that (and a whole bunch of other stuff I could mention) is on the test. And sadly, therefore, we don’t value it. It finds no place in our classrooms.”

But of course how can we teachers go on to teach our students these things when we cannot do them ourselves. When we keep on creating tests that are about content (content that is dead, that people can find in 30 seconds) and not about critical ability about cooperation about creation. When we do not ourselves collaborate with our peers in creating new content.

My fellow educators back in Greece, complain heavily and resist the (don’t-know-what-is going-on) government’s efforts to impose teacher assessment. I don’t agree at all with the way this is implemented and I know how unprepared the educational world is for that. But I think the problem is elsewhere: the Greek government as governments all over the world, as the American government for that matter,  insist on trying to make things “better” by placing the blame on teachers, by weakening teachers, by focusing on test results. The point is we have to make things completely differently, otherwise in a few years’ time we will be so obsolete we will disappear.  As Richardson cleverly notes: “In a nutshell, proponents of this view believe that education can be improved by identifying and getting rid of the teachers whose students underperform on the test, by privatizing schools and by “personalizing” the curriculum via computers that deliver content and problems to individual kids based on their assessed skill level.”

Our vision should be focusing on learning, on preparing students to become good learners, on teaching them how to create their own networks, developing good habits of questioning what is served to them as truth. If you are a teacher, maybe you should start wondering how you can do that in your class. If you are a parent, maybe you should start questioning if this is happening in your child’s classroom. If you are both, you are the first one that has to react.

Courage to all parents, students and teachers out there, going through exam period, one more time. And courage to me who is writing this just to procrastinate from studying for (yet) another French exam J.

For some fun check this test created by a teacher in a religious school in the USA where everything you think you knew would be marked wrong. Because there is hope in this world, the school closed since the test was given due to lack of funding. You can read the whole story here: Science Test


One Comment

  1. I found your blog very useful. I just want to share with you a site, I’ve recently found, It’s free for students and teachers, there are tons of free lesson plans sorted by student age and level, tutoring board for learners and jobs board for teachers.

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