The news that mid-term exams have been cancelled in some primary schools recently has sparked quite a few controversies. Some people regard it as a big step in educational reform, while others question whether it is on the right track. Parents, teachers and students, the three parts involved, have all reacted a little bit pessimistically toward the new policy. Parents, always busy working to support their families, feel that they are losing an important quantified judgment for their children’s behaviour or performance at school and are more worried than relaxed about their children’s increased spare time.
Most of them, I believe, prefer bookworms to idlers or addicts. Some parents have decided to pay more for after-school classes. Teachers, whose feet have been bound for a long time in teaching children, are beginning to lose their last control over the already spoilt students. How to check the teaching and learning effect? How to communicate with parents? How to keep students working hard to get good marks in the later, more important exams? Furthermore, maintaining their full work load, they are required to squeeze more of their meagre spare time to prepare additional lessons for “quality education”.
On the other hand, the suddenly liberated students have to find ways to fill their time. They delay homework and sometimes become addicted to computer games or just wander the streets. Adopting a bad habit is much easier than forming a good one. Objectively, the exam itself is not bad. It is a most effective measure of a student’s knowledge, performance and ability. But people have made it into a disaster. Since when was our education caught in such a vicious circle? Textbooks have remained unchanged for many years and have become purely ornamental, while exam questions are changed from year to year.
The only way to do this is to use more and more tricky questions. In fact, what we test our students on is much more difficult than what textbooks teach. To satisfy real needs, both teachers and students choose to be drowned in a sea of exercises and exams. On the other hand, years of cramming miscellaneous rules, formulae and information may have strengthened our students’ ability to imitate, memorize and take exams, but at the cost of their initiative and creativity, two of the most important qualities that a student should possess.
That may well answer the question why there is no Nobel-prize winner in China. I interpret the purposes of abandoning these exams as follows: First, it is to answer the call of reducing students’ heavy burdens in their studies and return to them their happy childhood. For years, we have been appealing for students to be freed from mountains of homework and extra classes, to no avail. Students have to do that! Only through immersion in all kinds of exercises and classes can most of them get comparatively satisfying results in various exams.
Therefore, the cancellation of exams is intended to remove a root cause of students’ toil and give them more play time. Second, it is to help relieve students of great pressure and protect their self-esteem. In fact, what frightens students are not exams, but the tremendous strain and high expectations behind them. Exams divide students into “good” and “bad”, leading some of them to a paradise of beautiful flowers and sweet compliments and others to a hell of bitter criticisms and severe punishments.
Exams often bring parents ecstasy or plunge them into the abyss of misery. Exams determine students’ futures and are a crystallization of a single person’s success or failure and a whole family’s hope or disillusionment. Since their first school day, students have been preparing for a diversified exam. For that reason, the cancellation of exams seems to save most families from suffering. But I doubt whether the benefits could be realized – mid-term exams in primary schools are only one minor link in a whole chain of exams.
Will all these exams, eg. inal-term exams, Secondary School Entrance Exams, College Entrance Exams, and broad after-school exams for certificates in social achievement be called off too? If not, students dare not shrug away their shackles and their fragile self-esteem will not last for long and their happiness is doomed to be temporary. On the other hand, if a student’s self-esteem totally depends on the cancellation of exams, it would be too weak to protect. Our society is neither an ivory tower nor a haven of peace. It is full of competition and struggles. Setbacks are inevitable and we need them to temper ourselves.
Don’t be misunderstanding. I am not an exam advocator. The exam-oriented education stifles teachers as it does students. What I mean is that we cannot solve a problem by taking only a stopgap measure. The root cause lies not in exams, but in the whole educational system. The first thing we should do is to change our inherent educational ideas of talent cultivation and create an active, healthy environment of teaching and learning. It will be a long way. What we need is not the cancellation of a single exam, but an earthquake in our education.
Courtney from Study Moose
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