Yesterday morning, my 15 year old sat her first GCSE exam just as her 7 year old sister took her SATs. Her class is not supposed to know about the tests, but my daughter does, most of them do. Despite our support and assurances, you could cut the tension, anticipation and angst in our household with a blunt butter knife. This is not ok. Our children, at either end of their formal education are worried out of their young, developing minds. They are all too aware that their results matter, and in the case of GCSEs, will define them for the foreseeable future. It's not ok that our society seems to covet thinkers more than doers. Furthermore, we celebrate and enthuse over those who have the ability to store and recall facts in a timed, high pressure environment. From a young age, the narrative goes that those who pass standardised tests with flying colours are intelligent, will succeed - they are the chosen ones. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
The Oxford English dictionary defines intelligence as:
noun 1.the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.My children are not struggling to jump through the hoops that constitute the exam marking criteria. They are what some would describe as 'high achievers' or 'gifted and talented'. They are the fortunate ones that fit the mould and will, in all likelihood, obtain above average results. And still they worry, fearing they are not good enough; most children do regardless of ability, it's endemic. I loathe the way our education system pushes all our children through the same standardised tests, and more so, the life shaping emphasis that is put on their results. These are tests that do not gage 'effective intelligence' - a term coined to express one's proficiency in using natural and learnt capabilities effectively and generally combine genetic and environmental factors to make the best of things. Neither do they measure creative or original thinking. They stifle the next generation's sense of, and desire for individuality and don't recognise personal attributes. Moreover, they offer an unfair advantage to those who can afford private tutoring and often spur on the use of bribery and threats. The latter quells intrinsic motivation, which we should be championing in our children as it leads to inherent satisfaction and contentment in life. What a sorry path we've chosen, one that measures human capability on outdated and biased assessments. Our offspring are suffering with increasing levels of anxiety, their teachers are disillusioned and stressed out. Both children and their educators are awash with stress hormones like never before.
"What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn't worth learning." Arthur Costa, emeritus professor at California State University.
There are so many things that exam results don't tell you. Things that are immeasurably more important in life. I want my children and every child to know:
Exam results do not show the depth of your love and kindness, nor the resilience of your spirit. They don't show what a joy it is to be in your company, nor how responsible you are and how steady you can be in a crisis. They do not display your life skills and capabilities. They do not show how trustworthy you are, nor do they necessarily exhibit your earnest work ethic. They do not depict your strong moral compass nor do they determine who you are. The things that interest you and make you feel alive, that captivate you and motivate you are unique to you. You are unique.
Try your best, be curious, seek to learn and grow. Wonder at the world for it does not work on intellect alone. It needs innovators, creatives, those with compassion, practical hands and enquiring minds. It needs you. Every one of you. It is likely there will always be standardised tests. Be you a square peg in a round hole or be you a flawless cylindrical peg, whether you scrape a pass, fail spectacularly or get full marks, know that those results do not define you. They don't reflect your endless potential. You are not an exam grade. You are far, far greater than that.