Examinations Are a Hindrance to Proper Education

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Examinations are evaluative means for gauging students' achievements over a medium to long-term period. Many schools administer teacher-built examinations as well as standardised examinations such as those administered by The Malawi National Examinations Board. However, there is debate among educators as to the importance of examinations to education. Hopkins (2009:15) acknowledges this debate by saying that “as with many educational dilemmas, the pendulum of the necessity of final examinations continually swings from needed to useless and back again.” Various reasons have been advanced to discredit the role of examinations in the education system. Among such arguments are that examinations encourage rote learning, and that examinations do not really measure intelligence, but only a narrow set of mental capabilities. Examination critics also argue that at times test results tend to be misinterpreted, abused and misused. Other educators, however, view examinations as an integral part of the education system. Such educators argue that examinations help in motivating students to learn and that they help governments to make important decisions that help in improving their education systems. Having carefully considered arguments from both sides, this paper backs the idea that examinations are a hindrance to proper education. Firstly, an education system emphasising on examinations encourages rote learning. Because emphasis is placed on passing examinations, students learn test passing skills not life skills. Oosterhof (1999) asserts that encouraged by teachers and parents, students focus on learning strategies that increase their chances of inflating their test scores. These strategies range from looking at old tests to be familiar with the test format, learning which answers to quickly discard in multiple choice questions to learning rigid ways to phrase answers in order to get maximum results. The actual process of learning in preparation for an examination is very different to learning in general. Learning real life concepts and ideas require students to take notes in class, do their homework and develop a good understanding of the material covered. However, when students learn to pass examinations, they will cram everything into the short-term memory, where facts, figures and formulae will be remembered just long enough to enable them write the examination (Bachman and Palmer, 2002). That knowledge is all but lost almost immediately after the examination because nothing was retained in their long-term memory. However, education is much more than just passing an examination. Krishnamurti in Stronge (2007:14) says that “there is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education.” Examinations in this way act as a hindrance to education because the student passes the examinations, yes, but does not have sufficient knowledge after education. Secondly, an examination-oriented education system dilutes the very same curriculum it seeks to promote. Steffensen, (2009:11) says that “because teachers are increasingly being rewarded based on their students’ scores, they teach in a way which has as its main purpose inflating test scores.” Teachers can do this in a number of ways such as limiting their curriculum to topics known to be on the test, phrasing all questions in the same way as the test, doing a lot of mock tests, lengthy discussions of mock tests and how to spot the most likely answer if somebody really does not know the answer. Once the aim is set to get higher grades in tests, other activities will have to be sacrificed. Peacocks (2009:19) argues that “teachers are bound to cut extra-curricular activities such as sports and also discourage creative activities so that students can study longer.” This should not happen because the students have worked hard in the class and studying so they should be allowed to take part in such activities as an...
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