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Passing Examination Is Less Important

Mon, 21 Nov 2011 Source: Zubeviel, Thomas

I have followed with keen interest the kind of reaction that has been generated by statistics from the recent Basic Education Examination Certificate Examination (BECE). Quoting the Daily Graphic, allAfrica.com reports that, only 46.93 per cent, representing 176,128 out of a total of 375,280 candidates who sat for the BECE, met the criteria for entry into the Senior High schools and technical institutes. This, as usual, has degenerated into the blame game, public outcry and politicians trying to make political capital out of the situation. Some media houses have even attempted to link this performance to educational policy failure among other things.

I agree with those who have pointed out that the performance is poor and something needs to be done about it. I also sympathize with parents and students who have to go through the emotional trauma as a result to this performance. However, it is important to note that, current global thinking about education, educational policy and goals are changing rapidly. People have realized that we have been missing the point all along. Society seems to have drifted away from the broader and essential goals of education to things that are supposed to be less important though desirable. Most countries are therefore moving away from evaluating educational policies, educational systems, teaching and learning outcomes based on test alone. Some countries have come to the realization that, it is not a fair way of judging an educational policy, system, teaching and learning as effective or ineffective, successful or otherwise based on either good or poor performance students. The best way to evaluate educational policies and systems as well as teaching and learning is to look at such issues in terms of broader educational goals and stated policy objectives or national goals. Despite the multiplicity of purposes of education, experts identify three broad aims. One purpose is to transmit the culture of a group of people in the younger generation. That is the generality of the way of life of a group of people within a particular period of time. This includes both material and non- material elements of culture. Thus, the content of education in most cases has been the culture of the people. The second goal of education is the pursuit of happiness. What constitutes happiness is open to intellectual discourse. Generally speaking, however, happiness involves engaging the younger generation in the pursuit of things that interest them, make life comfortable and makes them happy. As Aristotle puts it; happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure or pleasurable things but the fulfilling of one’s potential and natural talents to the fullest. Finally, education should train and equip the individual with the requisite cognitive, affective and motor skills to be able to take up, retain and excel in the world of work or market economy. Modern societies therefore set up educational institutions to achieve the aforementioned purposes. In effect, an individual can be said to be educated when she/he has internalized the ways of life of society, develops into a well-rounded person, fits well into the economic system and is happy. Unfortunately, many countries have failed to focus on these broader aims of educational institutions and systems. The focus these days has been on test results or performance of students at national or external examinations to the neglect of the broader ideals of education. These tests can never measure or predict for sure how who pass will get a job, retain the job, raise a good family, patriotism and incorruptibility or moral uprightness. I share the opinion that, passing tests, though important, is just an infinitesimal element of the essences of education. Education should focus on the holistic development of the human person taking into consideration the person’s, cognitive, affective and psycho motor skills. The problem is that, there is so much emphasis on the intellectual abilities of students.

When results from the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) or the West African Senior Secondary Examination (WASSCE) are poor, we publicly castigate teachers, schools, pupils, government and the entire educational system as being hopeless as if we sent our wards to school only to pass examinations. We fail to see the other skills that students may have acquired in school apart from their grades. This has been a yearly ritual as students’ performance in these tests mostly shows a decline than an improvement. Consequently some schools, students and teachers are named and shamed. What we usually forget is that we are creating a system where by the best teachers are merely expects at helping students pass examinations, the schools become specialized centres that have perfected the art of helping students pass tests, while the students develop examination passing skills. The reason is that, since the two examinations listed above are standardized tests that measure some specific skills and knowledge every year, the concepts tested remain the same only the wording or structure of questions change. Over the years, teachers and students gain lots of experience learning to tackle these past questions and excel in the act. So the good teachers may just be those who actually gained expertise in guiding students through the techniques of answering questions. The idea of judging schools, government policy on education and the entire educational system based on the performance of students at the WASSCE and BECE is problematic and is never a fair assessment since several factors account for results so produced. Loads of research evidence corroborate the findings that, culture, environment, previous knowledge, family background among others influence students’ performance in tests.

This national fixation on the intellectual abilities of her human resource base has led to so much socio-politico-economic problems that have left the country in its current state. Educational qualifications have become the standard for almost everything in the country now. Graduates have to go through stages of screening, interview upon interview before employers pick the crème de la crème for employment. Recruiters still have cause to complain about the overall best candidate they pick because of the fixation on test scores.

There is therefore the need for a national re-orientation and refocusing of thinking, policies and resources towards the attainment of more broader and intrinsic goals of education rather than this narrow and baseless attention on test scores and intelligence. Once this is done, people who do not pass the test will still function in society and people will not be trained for jobs that do not exist. Those who ‘fail’ these tests will also be able to function in society just like anyone else. If the current focus on test results is allowed to continue, we will waste our effort designing programmes that may ensure a 100 per cent pass only to produce professionals who are corrupt, greedy, misfits as well as people who do not love their country.

Zubeviel Thomas

University of Manchester.

Columnist: Zubeviel, Thomas