School a place for learning not testing

Regular taking of tests without appropriate balance robs learners of time to learn

In Summary
  • Testing of learners—at very short intervals— therefore loses its educational value.
  • It undermines society’s effort to provide quality and relevant education to learners.
Students during a past KCSE exam
Students during a past KCSE exam
Image: FILE

Recently, I raised a topic on social media saying schools should minimise examinations and concentrate on teaching and learning.

A significant number of respondents opposed my argument. They argued that school-level examinations served worthy purposes. The exams helped to determine the aptitudes of students; they also helped teachers to know who was learning and who was not learning. Further, they argued, they also helped teachers to know the progress they were making in syllabus coverage.

A few supported my position without discounting the place of school-level exams.

Examinations are a great way to assess what the students have learned with regards to the prescribed curriculum, and to identify student’s strengths and weaknesses for consolidation or remedial action.

Assessment per see can and does improve learning outcomes if the whole idea of testing is done against the backdrop of rigorous teaching and learning of testing content that has been taught. It also makes lots of sense if it is to improve curriculum management and delivery. This is because what is important is reception or acquisition of knowledge and skills. Examinations serve the needs of the curriculum and not vice versa.

Testing of learners—at very short intervals— therefore loses its educational value. It undermines society’s effort to provide quality and relevant education to learners.

Reports by task forces the Ministry of Education has set up  in the wake of student indiscipline and unrest have separately questioned the wisdom of too many school-level examinations in the management of curriculum delivery.

What is very important is that children master the basics of the subjects they are studying; it is the basics that embody the knowledge and skills the students need for their lives. Not grades—important though they are in gauging the quality of teaching and learning that is taking place in a school.

Too many school-level exams contradict the very purpose of schooling. The ultimate substance of schooling is not examinations or grading students. Rather, it is the curriculum. In lay language, a curriculum is a repertoire of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values the authorities want the learner to acquire.

Undue obsession with examinations and tests at school level has undesirable and unpardonable consequences.

Time used to test learners usually is time meant for regular learning. Professionally, time on task is very important in a curriculum delivery and management environment. Allocated time at school is mainly for teaching, learning and assessment.

The regular taking of tests without appropriate balance robs the learner of time to learn. Nor does it increase a child’s ability to comprehend what he has not understood in the first place.

What is very important is that children master the basics of the subjects they are studying; it is the basics that embody the knowledge and skills the students need for their lives. Not grades—important though they are in gauging the quality of teaching and learning that is taking place in a school.

The Ministry of Education envisions to provide quality, relevant and inclusive education, training and research for sustainable development. Achievement of this vision depends on a curriculum that nurtures every learner’s potential to the fullest possible extent.

An education and a curriculum that sends students out into the world at the end of 12 years of basic Education who have developed superior capacity for thinking and learning. Young men and women ready for further education, training or the world of work.

That depends on an environment characterised by a lot of learning, and teaching and less testing. Testing that identifies weaknesses to address with a view to improving curriculum delivery—and not testing that labels students.