There are brilliant students, average students and then those who cannot be rescued and eventually fall through the cracks; or at least that’s what our education system and examination results frequently lead us to believe. This hierarchy in academia seems to have always been the norm but (not entirely accurate), generalisations aside, what if all students were in fact brilliant students?
As a child I was never really aware of it, but little did I know that I may have slowly been conditioned to perceive some of my fellow classmates as intellectually inferior simply because I was considered one of the ‘bright’ ones. All throughout my primary and secondary school life, it seems to me that students were deliberately categorised according to their intellectual capacity. Most educators would claim that by spotting out the ‘weak’ ones from the ‘stronger’ ones, they may be better able to help the latter group by placing them in a separate class for ‘slower’ students. In hindsight, I believe that that argument is untenable. This type of thinking only conditions whole generations to believe that discrimination is right. Yes, the operative word here is discrimination, because it is indeed a culture of discrimination that western education has perpetuated throughout the years. Despite the fact that examination results have shown time and time again that final examinations do not always adequately reflect or determine the full potential of students, we persistently hang on to a system that seems, by all accounts, unfair and inefficient. Indeed, it seems that the system has failed us and that we need to go back to the drawing board – or the chalkboard, as the case may be.
Every brain is different and as such works differently but these differences should be understood and welcomed. They should not be a source of frustration for any one individual. It by no means signifies that some are ‘slow’ while others are ‘brighter.’ I believe that it has been the great downfall of our western education system to ignore this simple logic. Instead of appreciating diversity, we promote uniformity – from the classroom setting right down to final examinations. As a general rule we tend to favour one (proven or not) model all the time instead of accepting the fact that education only works for everyone when a series of models are in play. For example, a student who excels at oral exams but isn’t as consistent when it comes to written ones will obviously not thrive in the survival-of-the-fittest environment that is the modern classroom. Unfortunately, his final report will show that he is a failure because he doesn’t have a choice over how he is tested due to our schools preferring written examinations. We praise the brilliant students and shun or reprimand the ones that the system has obviously failed, thereby furthering the divide that in the first place shouldn’t exist between students. So, instead of perpetuating the same discourse by telling one category that they are ‘special’ when we secretly think that they are irreparably ‘dumb,’ we should consider every intellectually-able student as ‘special’ – in a positive sense. By the same token, we should take a second look at final examinations and reconsider its place in the academic institution or, I dare say, abolish it altogether.
These exams seem to be wrapped in an aura of mystery and designed in such a way that only the elite among students succeed. Intense pressure is placed on students, by parents and teachers alike, to perform exceptionally well. ‘Finals’ are treated as an altogether sacred rite of passage that if failed will result in the complete downfall of the student. This only inspires pure dread of a process that should be – to avoid the word ‘fun,’ which some examinations clearly aren’t – as stress-free as possible. It was impressed upon me at certain points in my academic life the crucial importance of these final examinations, as if the work I did during my terms/semesters counted for nothing. As if final examinations constituted the writing of my entire destiny, in a cramped room, ready to drown in the sweat caused by sheer nervousness and fear of the prospect of failing. This atmosphere of fear is futile and unhealthy and should be done away with. I believe that a fairer assessment of a student’s potential and capabilities is one that takes into greater account the work done during the semester and not that seemingly fatal blow dealt by final examinations. Perhaps the only measure of a student’s capabilities should be that. A relaxed setting may encourage better results and pupils may appreciate more the fact that they are learning for life, not simply for the final exam. Instead of focusing all of their energies on succeeding on one examination, they can concentrate on being consistent throughout the year. It’s time we celebrate the small everyday victories that, ultimately, are more beneficial than the big ones. Many a student with the proven intelligence and know-how has failed on the day of exams – not because they are incapable or incompetent – but because of fear and nervousness.
The very student who is reputed to be a ‘straight-A’ student, can falter during his/her most important final exam. Why does that single failure on an otherwise perfect record have to result in a lower overall grade? Does it not seem unfair that a student who acquires a grade of A throughout the semester for Mathematics should have to leave with an irrevocable D for year-end exams? Are his/her many triumphs throughout the academic period in question to be instantly eclipsed by one shortcoming?
Learning, real and effective learning, by definition, is a continuous process – not one by which you apply, in the space of a few days, all the knowledge acquired over an entire semester or school year, only to forget half or more of it shortly after. This, needless to say, only encourages rote learning, which is never profitable, to neither the student nor the teacher. What would have been the point after all, if all a student acquires is disposable knowledge? While it is true that there will be situations in real life where you have one chance and/or decision to make that, if spoilt, can never be taken back (or at least not without significant cost), the real world is closer to a classroom than it is to an exam room. Learning is an everyday thing and one’s true capabilities and worth as an individual are determined by how he lives every day – not on the bad choices and failures of one day or a few hours.
Moreover, no one exam, no one model, is infallible, (no student is either) and it is for this very reason that we should favour diversity over uniformity as far as teaching and testing methods are concerned. We should also keep in mind that learning is and ought to be interactive and dynamic instead of static. Academic failure is not always the fault of the student. Sometimes the system falls short and does not allow him or her to explore his/her full potential. My intention, by suggesting that less importance be placed on final exams, is not to encourage mediocrity. On the contrary, I simply wish to endorse equal opportunities. I say opportunities because no one is so perfect as to always get it right the first time around. Conventional wisdom has it that ‘pressure makes diamonds’ but maybe we should amend that original adage by saying that consistency also has a great role to play, not just pressure at the end of the school term, semester or year, but constant application all throughout. Then and only then may we be able to see the true brilliance of all our students.