|Throughout every year everybody seems to be busy preparing students for examinations and not the world. At Grade Seven level everybody talks about four-five units. At ‘O’ Level everybody talks about strings of As or Bs. At ‘A’ Level everybody talks about 14 and 15 pointers.|
Teachers, examiners, subject inspectors, the whole system are geared towards passing examinations and those who fail these exams are relegated to the dustbin of uselessness.
When Examination speaks, ‘No!’ it is a damning No and everything comes to a standstill.
It is like a sinner being condemned to hell and never to see heaven ever. Yet God can and will forgive if the sinner repents.
There is no room for repentance in our examination system. You do not enter the kingdom of further education or employment if examination has spoken NO!
When you fail an examination, and many do, you are a failure in life. You cannot proceed to Advanced Level, for example if you were in Form Four. You cannot proceed to university if you were in Form Six. You have to make the grade, otherwise you fail and stop. Failing examinations written in a few hours condemns thousands of learners to the dumping ground.
When an education system does the above one begins to ask: “What is the real purpose of an education system?” Certainly education must offer much more than condemnation and rejection. Yet when you look at the national pass rate every year in every year out, take ‘O’ Level education for example where the norm seems to be at the very best only 22 percent pass rate, the system seems to be majoring in dumping failures than opening opportunities for students. The conveyor belt called examinations condemns more of its own products than it conveys into useful citizens. The factory called education seems to convey very few of its products into ‘the shops’ compared to those that it condemns as rejects. The standards control system called examination ironically condemns itself by failing to produce qualifying products.
No-one fails to appreciate and understand the need and value of examinations. Of course they are a measure of assessment necessary to grade academic or intellectual input and output-the quality and qualification of mastery of whatever was learnt. Examinations are a selection process of ability and suitability. Examinations allow the best to proceed to higher levels of study and place the best in their positions.
But when a system forgets that there is life after examinations, we are heading towards being authors of our own frustrations. When an education system forgets that examinations must not be an end in themselves but a means to meaningful livelihood and participation in national building, that education is impotent.
When an education system makes every player prepare for examinations and nothing beyond or after them, that education does not only limit the purpose of examination, but limits even the whole purpose of teaching and learning. If the answer to the question, “Why do our children go to school?” is “In order to write examinations,” surely we must begin, if it is not too late, to question the seriousness of that education system.
A sound education provides growth for the learner. It provides education as direction in life. It offers preparation for life, unfolding and formal discipline in growth. All this means is that education must be far bigger than examinations. Is that what the Zimbabwean education is? Food for thought!
While it (the Zimbabwean education) strives to be all the above, the intellectual euphoria around examinations seems to be a reversal of values where examinations seem to be above education. Surely something is not quite right when a two hour examination is allowed to determine the success or failure of a student in life.
School must be seen as a complex civilisation, too complex to be tied to a few hours of examination. School must be able to establish progressive order needed to gain insight into what is more complicated in life. An ideal school must select various bests for individual accomplishment.
John Dewey argues: “Education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being ‘told’, but an active and constructive process. . .”
Examinations restrict students or learners to a fixed environment and rigidity of expectations. Is this not creating a false idea of accomplishment, of growth and development? Is this not making growth as being an end instead of having an end? For example does education have to cease at the end of examinations?
Education according to John Dewey (Democracy and Education-page 31) “. . .Education should not cease when one leaves school.” Our children’s education in Zimbabwe ceases when they fail examinations and leave school. He (Dewey) continues, “. . .The purpose of school education is to learn from life itself (not examinations) and to make the conditions of life such that all (underline ALL) will learn in the process of living is the finest product of schooling.”
“Since life means growth,” Dewey adds, “. . .a living creature lives as truly and positively at one stage as another, with the same intrinsic fullness and the same absolute claims. Hence education means (must mean) the enterprise of supplying the conditions which insure growth or adequacy of life. . .” With or without John Dewey, this makes perfect sense, does it not?
Yet our system of education in Zimbabwe with its singular overzealousness about examinations makes the adults formed by such an educative method look back with angry regret upon childhood and youth as a scene of lost opportunities and wasted effort.
Indeed human life cannot be identified with passing or failing examinations, no matter how important the examinations may be. And indeed they are important-very important! However, excessive attention to examinations leads to arrested development. How can we as a nation call this anarchy of examinations with their bad examiners and markers, their leakages and bookish control, a respect for the child’s nature and potentials? Education must keep the child’s nature and arm him or her with knowledge and skills in the very direction in which it points, not the direction a two hour examination points.
Education must have the power to utilise knowledge and skills gained for human purposes, not examinations. Education must germinate active habits, involve thought, invention and creativeness to apply individual capacities to new aims. A sound education is opposed to routine which arrests growth. Since growth is the cardinal characteristic of life, education must be one with growing, with no end beyond itself.
Hegel, Froebel, Locke are all education philosophers-cum-psychologists who viewed education as a preparation, unfolding and formal discipline, a continuous process of growth at every stage having an added capacity of growth. They viewed education as preparatory probation for ‘another life’. . .for a future a long way off. This means plenty of time must and will intervene before it becomes a present. But what does an examination do? It demands at once conventional standards of expectation and requirement for specific powers of the individual under instruction. Examination results in the deflection of attention from the strategic point of fullness of growth to a comparatively unproductive point.
Well, maybe we do not need educational philosophers and theorists in Zimbabwe. But whether we need educational reformers or not, we already have them, busily taking centre stage in the transformation of our education in Zimbabwe. May be we can rely on them and trust them that as they transform the curriculum, they must also seriously revisit the adventitious motives of the pleasure and pain of examinations. Maybe we can rely on these reformers or reformists and trust them to examine the apparent disgust, harshness and impotency of examinations, to examine the dosage of examinations required against some future sugar-coat in every exam imposed to determine the seriousness of the business of life.
May be we can rely on these reformers and trust them to realise that there is, after all, life after all examinations.